BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Knowledge Some people carry the knowledge of their deaths with them as one might carry a small package, having been charged with it. Once I thought I could actually see this knowledge written on the face of my younger brother. He must have thought the sudden seriousness of my face was comical, before he turned away. Maybe he knew then. Maybe he’s always known, but the knowledge did not make him circumspect. Instead it seemed the cool hand of contentment rested always on his forehead. Gracefully, he endured adolescence, its perpetual desolations, its solitudes in the face of a crowd. Also, the times we raged against one another’s will until we were both radiant and exhausted. He would stand, slowly straightening his broad shoulders, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans, as if having just completed something necessary, but beneath contempt. I can’t explain. He lived as if calamity and misfortune were beyond him. He survived, clear eyed and confident the neighbor’s father who suspected him in his daughter’s disappearance. Later, how many times he drove off drunk or high, I’ll never know. If I had asked him he would have told me he wasn’t scared by this knowledge, and I would have believed him. I would have believed him because there are times I feel a soul jumping in the body. It wants out! I do not pity my brother now for the way he wakes alone in the grim morning, after dreams of death. Though he’s older, and I don’t see him as often, I imagine how his body must rise almost without him, and walk out into the day. I imagine how it carries him to another dishwashing job, or to sort trash at the recycling plant, where he must care less for himself than the man he stands next to. Less, even, than the oldest man on the line whose only real interest in the day is the pornography he sifts off the conveyor. It occurs to me, if I did pity the men like my brother, whose work advances on into the night, whose lives become more like a dream they are having while awake, I would have to pity myself. Once, I still believed there were many ways to love a brother. I let go of my mother’s hand and slipped into a crowd gathering for the parade. I was sure the deafening boom of muskets could loosen all moorings of the soul. And for the first time, drifting alone among candy wrappers and sticky sweet heat, I could feel death, its shifting agreement in my own body, and knew then, as he always had nothing could prevent it. ANGELA MERTA Angela Merta lives in Minneapolis, and recently received her have appeared in The Southern Anthology, The North Stone M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota. She was a finalist Review, and Ariston. for the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1998. She is currently finishing her first book of poems, “Living in History,” Her poems Naomi Shihab Nye 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 10, 1999
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