Naomi Shihab Nye
The Little Brother Poem
I keep seeing your car in the streets
but it never turns at our corner. I keep finding
little pieces of junk you saved, a packing box, a white rag,
and stashed in the shed for future uses. Today I am cleaning
the house. I take your old camping jug, poke my finger
through the rusted hole in the bottom, stack it on the trash
wondering if you'd yell at me, if you had other plans for it.
Little brother, when you were born I was glad. Believe this.
There is much you never forgave me for but I tell you now,
I wanted you.
It's true there are things I would change. Your face bleeding
the day you followed me and I pushed you in front of a bicycle.
For weeks your eyes hard on me under the bandages. For years
you quoted me back to myself, mean things I'd said that I didn't
remember. Last summer you disappeared into the streets of Dallas
at midnight on foot crying and I realized you'd been serious,
some strange bruise you still carried under the skin.
You're not little anymore. You passed me up and kept reminding me
I'd stopped growing. We're different, always have been,
you're Wall Street and I'm the local fruit market,
you're Pierre Cardin and I'm a used bandanna.
That's fine, I'll take differences over things that match.
If you were here today we wouldn't say this.
You'd be outside cranking up the lawnmower.
I'd be in here answering mail.
You'd pass through the house and say "You're a big help"
and I'd say "Don't mention it" and the door would close.
I think of the rest of our lives. You're on the edge of yours today.
Long-distance I said "Are you happy?" and your voice wasn't sure.
It sounded small, younger, it sounded like the little brother
I don't have anymore, the one who ran miniature trucks up my arms
telling me I was a highway, the one who believed me
when I told him monkeys arrived in the night to kidnap boys
with brown hair. I'm sorry for everything I did that hurt.
It's a large order I know, dumping our a whole drawer at once,
fingering receipts and stubs, trying to put them back
in some kind of shape so you'll be able to find everything later,
when you need it, and you don't have so much time.
Naomi Shihab Nye, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, The Eighth
Mountain Press, 1995.