On the way to meet my visiting brothers I come up out of the underground
into the late Spring bright green and there he is looking at himself
in the dusty stain of a store window. ‘He was always self-absorbed’
I think, but just cannot remember his name and would therefore have walked by
except then, just then he turns to me, immediately recognizes me and comes for me,
seizes me, holds my hand in his vice grip pincer and says “so you don’t work at Pine St. anymore”
announcing he remembers me all right. I am embarrassed to see the scrape around his eye socket
and side of his nose which must be from a fall not a blow that had, had him so intent perusing himself.
We talk about shelter acquaintance and I am again impressed with the power of his astounding memory.
Earnest, Earnest still out here on the street all these years later still so smart, so earnest. He holds onto me,
grasps the interior muscle of my strong but slightly sore hand and looks into my face so I see his animal
energy, his brilliance, his struggle against alcohol that sent him scraping into concrete but my two
departing brothers await me and I must not be late for one last breakfast while this brother no one
can help is saying “I’m going to make it yet” and I am to him what I have been always, also, to my own
sense of failure. Somehow he has helped me more than I could ever help him. He was there waiting for
me looking into the mirror of his own reflection to find my passing form. He took me in hand and said
‘you matter’ you are not just the lesser brother, your presence could change a life. You are part of a larger
world. If you were not here I would be diminished. Maybe we can save each other? Maybe the other
brother covers the lapses of the bother brother. Maybe the brothers can protect the mothers.
Maybe the fratricide can become fraternity.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.