The day my brother died a silence grew.
It grew upon the corners of the room,
Upon the curtains shut, upon the floor.
It grew beyond the door ajar—dim blue
I stood before, not ready in myself.
How should one enter, or think even
To prepare dumb feet for the inevitable?
“Go in,” mother whispered. So I did.
The room was not so much a thing,
Or age a span, for the house now
Seemed old as it was empty,
Though kind as never did it speak.
Could walls but talk. They did not breathe,
But fostered me, the younger always;
And whether honestly or not, I believed
Myself less wise and worthy of this thing.
I took my place in silence at his head.
Sheets draped across his body. Naked feet.
A stain of mother’s sweat still visible, tears
Beaded earlier that morning on his hair.
Could walls have seen, or dystrophy flex.
But they did not; her tears now fell alone.
I was not let to see, though see them now
In my imagining, a man, for what they are.
I was made to go to school, made to leave
To let my parents to their private rite of grief,
While brother, living still, yet crooked his neck
Like shepherd’s staff toward them,
Bent cheek for kisses. Tiny at first, then each one
Grown larger to the room and to the door,—
Eyes too bleared from love to see.
But one more kiss—one more was all their wish.
Had I the sweat from off his brow
I would know then what I know now—
How mother wept in silence;
How father was this room:
The bulk ward of his chest pulled tight, in—
His broken arms both broad and thin,
His heart, at once heavy and wren,
Gathering unto himself wife and son.—
Yet in—yet in, the dead and dying.
We are all waiting, waiting for something:
for final report to come from the wards;
or word from the doctors who've been up all night,
who see more of porters and clerks
than of husbands and wives; or for babies
who damn well come as they please,
despite all our wanting, annoyance and grief;
we're waiting for any, just half-diagnosis, for Greek,
that if pill cannot cure us, that knowledge at least
would bring peace—to have named it;
if only a doctor could soothe and befriend it,
if only a nurse give relief,
till it goes away, and quiets and sleeps;
that is, until snores from the next room
awaken, and there is found waiting—
again the delays!—we are waiting
to offer what's wanted and needed;
for ambulance bills to drop in the mail;
for codes to be called from overhead pagers;
for water, and blankets, and chaplains, and tea;
for some other roommate, some better company.
Waiting for waiting, though wait as we may,
even babies, we know, who arrive as they please
wait for home.