In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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O dance-floor, swimming-pool, pool hall genius!
heroic heartbreak, my brother.
How to fit
your surfer’s shoulders,
your red ’66 Bonneville, your relapses,
Jesuit diplomas, and scholarships, your trips to the pawnshop,
your sandy feet, your discreet, knightly manner
and magnificent grin,
your seven-hundred-dollar hotel bar tab
in London last Christmas,
your off-the-ground and holy bearhugs
with tattooed forearms, all shamrocks, sparrows, and saints,
and your secrets, submerged
beneath quicksilver tears
and all that cheap beer —
how to fit you, little brother,
into this poem?
I’d love to write an ode as lyrical as you are
moving through water with ball or board.
The formal, elevated style of an ode fits you perfectly,
like a tuxedo or a Speedo. You’re dangerous
in either one; ask any of my friends.
But let’s get back to the poem
and its dignified theme,
which, in this case, is death.
Tonight I’m up late
afraid you might really die,
that the drink might finally pull you under
like the ocean does her lovers sometimes.
You were born just before my first birthday.
I once could outrun you and later
outdrink you, but not for long.
I really don’t know you, the kid
across the teeter-totter
or the dinner table, napkins in our laps,
the kid behind me
holding tight to my T-shirt
astride the pony’s back.
I don’t know
the serious man in the black motorcycle jacket
across the airplane aisle
reading a good magazine.
I don’t know you,
cannot put you back on the pony,
can’t fit you into three stanzas,
can’t save you.