My brother's birthday looming, I've been wanting to write something, well, something worthy of him. I realized today that I already have written a brotherly Bill Baggott tribute -- never posted before. (It appears in my collection COMPULSIONS OF SILKWORMS AND BEES.) Is it wrong -- under the frenzy of the holidays and having been away for 10 days -- to use it again here? Cheating?
It's called "The Stolen Poem: My Brother Poem after Levine’s 'What Work Is'". As I recall, the form here is that I take one word from each of line of Levine's beautiful poem written for his brother and I use it to write a poem to my own brother.
And so here goes. A poem for Bill Baggott -- whom I admire and love so damn much. Happy Birthday.
The Stolen Poem: My Brother Poem
after Levine’s “What Work Is”
He won’t admit to rain,
only a break in the sun to wait out.
For now, a mist. His kids slip through the park gate,
Almost old, my brother’s blond whitens.
Work doesn’t exist, only a hearty laugh, damp grass.
He forgets everything but the children, the gate,
for a moment, a shift of sentimentality.
He has five kids—he should be toughened—but his eyes mist,
the risen blur of love.
I see him now, from a distance,
his ruddy cheeks, sloppy pants, chins, tinged mustache.
Unlike other men who turn sour, joyless,
who narrow to a staircase soul,
he grins, beams, a search-light,
and, too, the stubborn ulcer hidden,
his refusal of anger alive and livid,
the pooled sting of sleepless hours.
Saturday, it will lead somewhere.
My brother will wait for it to unwind
amid the no-no of children, jazz, scotch.
He won’t play the hired man today.
He reasons loneliness the opposite of love,
asks for company, stands joyful, sings in a crowd,
a flooding love. He swells with it.
Once he traveled beside bluesmen,
far from home, the sour stink of reeds, horns,
hotel sheets. It became a miserable moan of sax.
He hitched a ride in a Cadillac, east,
recalls now only the old German on trumpet,
his jowly face pursed to bawl. Hours turn,
Saturday, an opera he doesn’t try to understand.
He hates to read: It invents a different world,
and he always prefers his own. But music,
oh, how it moves beside you, within,
shoulders the day. He doesn’t close
his eyes to it, but allows its kiss.
A simple benediction. An obvious gift.
He is no longer young and dumb.
His meanness has atrophied to a splinter of bone.
Incapable of drifting beyond,
he adores all of us, this presence,
because we are and he is.