Three Poems by Anthony A. Lee

Just Like Jamaica, I

Didn't love my brother either,
or maybe I did long ago.
When we were kids,
we played together naked once,
him on top of the attic stairs
and me at the bottom,
swatting a ball back and forth,
an old yellow tennis ball
we hit with Ping-Pong paddles.
And I don't know why we
took off our clothes
and got hard, or maybe half-hard,
because we were too young
to know what to do about it.
I must have loved him then.
But, I couldn't do it later on.

My mother lost herself trying
to love him. Well, maybe
not herself really, but everything.
everything else: Her money,
her house. (He just took it
one day.) Finally, her dignity.
But she couldn't love him either,
like I couldn't. And she tried
to fill the hole with words,
oceans of words.

And I remember the day
I stopped loving him. The hour,
the minute even. After some
quarrel we had. Some petty-betrayal,
when we were young.
And I said to myself, OK,
I just won't love you anymore.
And I stopped right there,
at will
in the driveway
in front of the neighbor's white house,
late one afternoon near sunset,
as we were about to get into the old blue sedan,
so our mother could drive us someplace,
after some quarrel, some small betrayal.
And after he died,
that decision, that act of will,
protected me for years and years.

But, anyway,
my father couldn't love him.
Which was just as well.
He couldn't love anyone.
It had cost him too much once.
His mother (my grandmother) had taught him that.
(She would say:
"My son used to be a good boy."
And then frown,
looking angry and helpless at the same time,
and I would wonder when my father
had been a good boy.)

Our house was cold like that, I think.
And maybe that's why we
took off our clothes.
Maybe that's why we got naked.
So we could feel the cold.


We Were Brothers, After All

even though he loved chocolate cake
and I wouldn't touch it,
he liked hamburgers with ketchup and mustard,
and I only ate hot dogs plain,
his favorite color was blue, and
I don't remember what my favorite was,
but it sure as hell wasn't blue,
that much I know,
because one thing that was for certain
back then was that I was the opposite
of my brother in every way.
He was daddy's boy,
and I was mama's.
He was a bad boy,
and I was a good one.

And I knew that
because I heard it from
my mother's mouth,
"You are such a good little boy"
and it swelled like a melody,
musical and sweet,
like a lullaby to put me to sleep
or a funeral dirge
to tell the world that, sleeping,
I could never wake,
only lie in the black suit and proper tie,
perfect and motionless.

My mother sent him away
once, and he stayed with my father
for a while, and I don't know
how I got along without him,
living without a shadow.
My mother had me to herself then,
and I must have had her.
When he came back,
and my brother told me
about his first lays-
well, not told me really
because you didn't say those things
back then, but only hinted
and joked around with a dirty smile-
but when he did that,
I thought he was disgusting
and held on to my virginity for years after
like a rubber doll with no vagina.
And he worked as a pimp
and married a prostitute
whom I actually got to know later
and thought she was nice,
nicer that he was.
But then, I didn't know about
the heroin that both of them were on.

And he thought I was disgusting,
and even said so once
and told me I was gay,
which was the worst
thing he could think of at the time.
But besides that, he
couldn't take the religion
and all the university stuff
that he couldn't understand
and maybe was even afraid of-
it didn't have anything
to do with getting laid
or shooting up, which was all that
mattered to him by then.
But, of course, if he was using smack,
he wasn't getting laid,
'cause that's one of the things you
have to give up when you're a junkie.
And I had given it up,
or hadn't really started yet.
And I didn't even have the fun
of getting high.

We looked at each other
in the mirror, but
we, after all, were brothers
and we were just alike,
except that my junk was philosophy
and dreams of world peace.
He lay down one midnight and took
his final dose of heroin and coke
in a neighbor's dining room
where he was sleeping for the night.
My death will be slower,
if I ever find a place to rest.

Seeking

He tried to remember
the good times
but couldn't come up
with much beyond a few
fuzzy pictures
that he wasn't even sure
were true.
There was that one time though.
He was on the beach at night,
his brother and he,
with his mother holding their hands,
one on each side of her,
and the bonfires all around,
as they searched for the fire
they belonged to.
They were looking for his dad,
or for a group of friends
or maybe a gathering of believers,
or just a party, or something.
He couldn't remember now.
But the black sea
stretched away from the sand
like an eternity of darkness,
no moon,
no silver on the waves,
only the red glow of fires on the sand,
the ones that were not theirs,
as they walked on,
looking for the right one,
so they could finally be together.
The burning went on for miles, it seemed,
as they searched for the place they wanted.
(And even when I drive by that coast today,
along the ocean, at night,
in the blackness,
on my way home from work,
or from some other place,
when I drive past Playa del Rey
under the scream of jets now,
just trying to get home
in my old white Honda,
and the sand stretches for miles,
and I see the fires on the beach,
glowing red and yellow,
with no moon on the sea,
even today,
I still look at each one
wondering if I might find it yet.)
But anyway,
eventually, they turned back,
finding only strange glows,
marshmallows on sticks,
roasted hot dogs,
popcorn,
not theirs,
somebody else's.
And he knew at that moment:
he knew
that was his very last chance,
his very last chance,
to make it work.
His brother was not his brother then.
His mother was a stranger.
His father was no where to be seen.
They turned way from the light,
holding hands,
and walked back into the darkness.

Anthony A. Lee