Poem for my Brother, 1966-1987

The Prankster

You’d just turned 21, bought us the Beck’s Beer
we sipped while we waited for the drop-off

at my place, listened to the Stones. You had
silky hair like Mick Jagger, wore a leather jacket

from Dad’s shoe repair shop, dingy white Pumas.
We laughed about our childhood, how you played

tricks on me, like saying you were adopted or
that the shell tasted better than the egg.

We planned to run Dad’s business until we died.
You left to buy one more six-pack, Ruby Tuesday

playing on the stereo, and I was happy to wait
for you. You patted my shoulder, said, I’ll be back,

three words that became a broken promise—
Hours later, after I guessed you’d caught up

with a buddy, forgot to call, our uncle phoned
to say they found you one block from the store,

motorcycle mangled, brain stem snapped in two,
you never felt a thing. Eighteen years old, grief

dropped over me like a veil. I took a cab to our
grandparents, thought of when we were kids:

you made a noose out of plastic, tied it around
your neck, pretended to hang yourself–head slumped,

eyes bugged–from the top bunk. When Dad came
in, he popped you on the head with his knuckle.

I sit at our grandparents, watching the door,
waiting for you to waltz in like so many other
times to tell me that this was all a joke.


Missing My Father

Since You’ve Been Gone

I stand in the kitchen, pour olive oil
into a warm pan on the stove, then garlic,
the aroma rising like yeast, making me
want to call you—as I did during
the decades we lived apart—me
in the navy in California, you at your
hotdog stand in Florida. If you answered
drunk, I’d make an excuse, “Someone’s
at the door,” so I could hang up quick.
But if you were sober, you might tell me
a story: like when you were a kid, riding
beside your buddy in the back of
DiRienzo’s Bakery truck, bringing
bread to the neighborhood folks, your
spaghetti-thin frame, the inhaler
in your jeans pocket, all those loaves
still warm from the oven on the shelves,
you took one and packed it like a snow ball,
and as the driver skidded around
corners, you took bites from the dough.

You’re not there anymore to answer
my call, but I have your recipes, and
your grandchildren, each with your skinny
arms, they sit at my table, pasta filling
their plates, fresh bread in their hands,
they bring the red sauce to their mouths.