Mike Smolinsky

To My Younger Brother at a Zen Monastery

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We haven’t spoken since you moved to Maine.
But I found this poem of mine from middle school
while cleaning out the old attic. Thought of you.

It’s about a bird. Back then, I called it lame;
something’s still wrong with the wing.
Do you think it will ever fly or sing?

We’d seen a bluebird from our bedroom window
almost every day that April—wounded, darting
back and forth in a pool of roots and rain.

Watching him, frantic, recalled your voice: He got me!
from the time I closed the car door on your thumb.
That breathless, staggered rhythm—

I don’t know why I laughed.
You were in pain. Was I
cruel, anxious, caught off guard?

You never made a peep. At the dentist once,
the Novocaine faded and you accepted it in silence.
Accepted I would always be the favorite.

After I read the poem in class, I placed my ear on the cold
surface of the desk. It was like talking long distance on our
old rotary phone: sharp and static, broken full of emptiness.

Like laying my head on Dad’s chest while he spoke,
just after his mother died. I was seven.
He was stoic. Mom was mute and still.

You went upstairs alone.