I turned twelve during Huck Finn summer
just after spring delivered baby brother,
red-curled and dimply. All I wanted
was to teach Stevie life’s important things,
but his crib bars kept him jailed from playing
bare-footed outside or climbing in trees.
Squishy brown fruit from our apricot trees
aimed at my sisters - two prissy summer
targets, pigtails and sundresses, playing
house or dress-up - splat them mad, our brother
laughs as they chase me inside. “There’s one thing,”
I holler, dashing by – I am Wanted.
Our house was full of holes we each wanted
filled – Mom, by herself, could not trim the trees;
big sister’s silky quilt, a threadbare thing;
little sister drew one picture all summer
long, over and over: baby brother
and our father, loves of her life, playing.
Calloused against sharp dry grass, I’m playing
with the worn brown boxing gloves Dad wanted
me to have. “Don’t you mess with my brother,”
I warn unseen bullies, jabbing at trees,
smelling old leather, apricots, summer
sweat, and the rank taste of some big lost thing.
I wag my head at how tiny a thing
it takes – the sound of children playing,
the wet of dew between my toes, summer
afternoons hammocked with nothing wanted,
peanut butter and apricot jam, trees
with swings – I was a lousy big brother.
Between his bars I say, “You’re my brother
and you won't have to play alone. One thing
you can count on is me. We’ll climb high trees
and have adventures, just us two, playing
pirates like Tom and Huck – outlaws wanted
dead or alive. You’re gonna love summer!”
Each year as trees grow bare, I wonder how my brother
marks the passing of summer. Can he see that things
age and hue? Playing with me was all he ever wanted.
Big River Poetry Review - July 9, 2012