Surviving Brothers

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 9 No. 2, "Festival: Celebrating Southern Literature." Find more from that issue here.

Somewhere inside this body

the sun is so bright I follow my shadow

into a field of wild sedge, all golden

windblown, and taller than I stand.


I take two handfuls, tie them together

then two more, until there is a hut.

The shade inside is cool and dark.

I slip in, back against the ground, barefoot.


A redwing blackbird lies on one of the knots.

I close my eyes, dream of Fletcher, the butcher’s knife

the words my mother spoke to my father

when they thought I was asleep.


“Mary and Phil were in the living room

when in comes Fletcher, stumbling through the hallway

banging against one wall and then the other.


“He comes into the living room singing loud

and Mary says, ‘Son, you’re drunk, go to bed.’

Well, he looks at her and laughs. He just started to laugh

and kept on with that caterwaul until he woke Phil.


“Phil got up and tried to guide him to the bedroom

but Fletcher wasn’t having none of that and he swung at Phil

and Phil shoved him flat against the hutch, and Mary says

Fletcher turned around swinging a butcher’s knife

and hollered, ‘Come on brother, come and get me!’


“Phil tried to take the knife away and they started to wrestle.

Fletcher slipped and Mary screamed and Phil went down on him.

When Phil got up there was blood all over his undershirt.

Fletcher didn’t move. Mary said she knew he was dead, God help her.


I can still remember that blackbird flying off.


Years have passed since the night of your death

and I have never seen where they buried you

but I have not forgotten your green eyes and red hair.

I hardly knew you, but you were beautiful.


A few hours after the funeral, Phil came home

got in your ’57 Chevrolet and headed straight for the Bottoms.

He drove up the ramp, jumped out and let it dive into the Mississippi River.

He broke his arm trying to get out of that car.


To this day his right arm is a web of dead nerves.