Reflex Response to Gravity

by Gianni Skaragas

Artwork by Alexa Gaffaney

My brother shouts to no one in particular, an insult

he had once known, old hurts fragmented yet orderly

a new land in his empty pockets.

He damns the bulb hanging from the ceiling and fires

his toy gun at random intervals until he lays it

on my mother’s dress

a dry riverbed between us.

Ηe spouts all kinds of threats

a long nickering white marble thoroughbred with bruised lips

propelling his wheelchair furiously toward the picture of our father.

Did he spend our money, he asks as if he feared waking someone

his mouth drawn tight—

it never means one thing,

the face of an insect gazing through his eyes

the sharp smell from the weeks-old vase of hyacinths

the shame building in the big-headed child

the wars of our boyhood over his shoulder.

If only his youth were buckskin stretched over a golden doorknob

to hide the uncontainable heart

behind a door always open a crack.

Can we leave the bulb on till I’m asleep, he says as he runs

a hand across his eyes dimming away the past

I feed him watermelon slices on paper napkins

clogging his nostrils.

He kisses the palms of my grasping hands

the way actors improvise in an enactment

of momentary hiccup

the inescapable sob,

the napkins stained with red tears as precise as county lines

too earthly to be seen on the ground

someone else’s pride he wears like a coat

now worth one third of what he had expected

an alien punctuation in the gray roots along the part line

an ended track branching off to the left

a crack between a man’s hands and his father’s pension plan.

They sin differently, he says

Who? He can’t see who he has become

the lines, the roots, the pride.

My brother’s enemies are shadows, the hawk’s response

to an airplane for which neither the sky or gravity can be blamed.

My brother is a white marble thoroughbred with bruised lips

He thinks his hands are red but it’s the tears

he can’t see.

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