Oh, Brother Mine

by James Como (May 2016)

Consider Cain and Abel: allow the act

as true and still you get it wrong, old stings

of niceness-cum-nightmare. Fact.

Are they known, two such brothers who fit

that mold? Fame sure, but game?  

One good, fine, the prize, the other violent,

neurons blown, the end of days, a lamentation.

Now consider this fact, soberly:

first act. Spokes from one axel,

and it shows, depending on the roll,

like when we robbed fried chicken

from the fridge at midnight (mother was not

amused, but father would greet us with

a wing of his own), and listened after

bedtime to The Shadow and Straight Arrow

and Tom Mix –“dig dirt, Tony!”

he would shout to his horse: “a horse, Joey,

named Tony!” He could watch baseball

later, all in for Johnny Mize.

One as sharp, the other as given to violence,

but he quicker of mind and canny, and

daring, rescuing a one-eyed kitten on Third

Avenue into the James Weldon Johnson

Houses. Saving me too on Lexington:

another story, with so much, so many more. 

Act two. Our mother died when we

and she were too, too young, you see. 

The earth quaked. Fuses were lit, reveries

ended, unsung. Do you see? So, later, he

went at it, frenzy and rage, a wicked place.  

Yet on the way he would keep watch,

steady, as a big brother should, and his better

self would act. And much later still came grace, 

third act. So much for Cain and for Abel.

 Not out of nowhere did he choose

to return, a grandfather. We recovered

secrets, affixing sweet memories and staying

the wheel full circle, he caring, tender, passionate

(of course): “Jimmy, Clinton won’t even say ‘God bless

America’!” He prayed and was anointed. 

Only I and he knew all three acts,

you see. And, loving him as I do,

I was not ready for this cremation. 


James Como is the author, most recently, of The Tongue is Also a Fire: essays on conversation, rhetoric and the transmission of culture . . . and on C. S. Lewis (New English Review Press, 2015).


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