To Make The Wound More Beautiful 

by John Brehm

Featured in Mountain Record 31.2, Winter 2012-2013


George in New York

Inward, self-questioning, often unsure.
Often clearly miserable:
a kindred spirit, my nephew.
Readerly and melancholy.
The only other in my family
thus afflicted.
But the affliction is the way,
so I fed him books—
Salinger and Whitman,
the Greeks and ancient
Japanese poets,
Saigyoō particularly.
Neruda of the odes,
of the wild undaunted
friendliness toward all things.
So that soon enough
he was taller than me,
handsomer, wiser,
gentler. When he came
to visit me in New York
I told him: “If I catch you
staring at the sidewalk
I’m sending you home.”
After which he
noticed every bottle-
shard sculpture
in the East Village,
every brownstone gargoyle
in Park Slope,
and was seized by
the same depraved
exhaustion I always felt
anywhere near the corner
of Broadway and Canal.
Coming in from LaGuardia,
he’d tried to reason
the cabbie out of
a paranoid racist rant,
tried—between my shouts
and insults—calmly to
change his mind,
unwilling to give up
on anyone.
After I praised
his patience and intelligence,
he said he disliked
compliments, having inherited
the midwestern
clairvoyance for all signs
of arrogance
in himself or others.
I knew that feeling well,
but I told him, they’re gifts,
it’s ungracious not to
accept them.
And he seemed to accept that
and I complimented him
for doing so.
And then he shook off
his shyness like a fine black dust,
started talking to everyone—
jazz players after a set,
flea-market vendors,
fellow travelers on the subway.
Took his place in the world,
stepped into himself
and found he fit.
A wondrous thing to witness.
That will have been five
years ago this spring,
back when death was just an idea,
something to be spoken of
now and again.


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