There was air before there was prison before there were brothers
in prison calling collect through miles of wires to say, I live.
I am your ghost in the cellar
of America. I keep your nose on my face.
Your same eyes & ears & mouth. I bathe
our childhood in a room full of men. & it’s always violent.
I sun your bones in the yard.
I carry the mark of our dead sisters, Julie & Cheryl
with the little lambs on their shared tombstone, Mom’s Valium-
coated grief, Dad’s belt of rage, I carry them all for you
into these walled nights while you sleep in the soft
breaths of a mortgaged house. I may never know the sweetness.
The newscaster says mercy, mercy, Justice
Kennedy’s statement, mercy, mercy. My brother
has grown gray away from me. I can’t bear to visit
the warehoused boys who spin their cobwebs
tucked carefully out of sight. His internet prison profile
lists his jail tats: one on a thigh no woman can touch,
his height & weight, a photo where he stares
into the camera like a burglar’s gun, like it’s taken
his last private thing left. It does not list our dad
who won’t die until his boy’s out.
It does not list prostate cancer, bleeding ulcers.
Not our aunties’ hands held to prayer books past
when their bodies began to let go.
The prison sentence, a spell cast across
the everyday, filling rooms with the tone-deaf drone
of a brother not dead but gone.
It does not list how relieved I was
to leave his name that haunted our high school,
to take a husband’s. Perhaps, on a shivered day like today,
I’ll fix him supper served on our mother’s good
china, set an extra plate & wait
for him to wash his hands. Imagine that:
my brother in my house, his hands wrapped
in the hard water of a well in this yard
where my children sped into their own distant worlds
& nothing breaking.