My brother, George, dealt with poor eyesight since he was a young child and wore glasses for most of his life. Occasionally he would have to hand off those glasses to a friendly bystander when he was forced to fight the neighborhood bullies. There were quite a few when you were a skinny kid with thick glasses. My brother was in his forties when he was diagnosed with cataracts. He had probably had them for a long time. Surgery to remove these blurry veils allowed him to see things as he had never experienced them. He said he could see the world in radiant color and the individual leaves on trees astounded him. This was a man who loved nature and being outdoors; gaining the ability to see it clearly must have been like having old bandages removed from his eyes.
The loss of George weighs heavily on me. His scarred soul and damaged heart could exult at fresh snow, a rainbow trout spotted in a stream or the flight of a hawk. When I see a great canyon, a herd of elk, aspens in the fall or vast horizons of mountains, I think “George would have loved this.” This poem is for my brother who shared what he loved with me.
When I look back at the six of us
in the summer of 1963
we are still together then,
framed in a faded photo of imperfect colors.
The hardpan dirt of our backyard
with its ragged strands of grass
is our marked territory
among the old brick houses
whose tall chimney stacks reach for air.
On this barren square of earth
a chapter of our suffering is caught.
Brothers and sisters are told to smile
and you smile, George, innocent, obedient
in this alley of junked cars, sagging fences
and chicken wire enclosures for hunting dogs.
Your shoulders are broadening
as you start your climb to over six feet.
Maybe you lost sight or sense of that height
when you unfolded under the iron sink
in the back room off the kitchen.
Above the shaved patch of your head
black threads hold the skin together.
Your thick glasses are not there –
the ones you would be teased about
for most of your tattered life.
Those will be broken too,
becoming ashes thrown to the wind
like you when you couldn’t smile.