from the archives: a poem from the 1980s–the theme still “animates my life”, as Utah used to like to say.
Hungry for Brothers
I long for that man in my periphery: elusive on his way to shoot hoops or neck with his girl (I know from the way his clothes smell in the hamper the next day). They are gone now, my brothers, and I am insatiable. I long for strong platonic arms around me: the press of the bicep encircling my neck as I lift my feet in fraternal surrender.
In Dick’s truck, sandwiched between his sweat and Dennis’s “Who the fuck cares what you think?” language, I feel at peace. They’ve taken me golfing, and on the way home: “God damn it, girl, you need to speed up your game, man.” Then from Dick: “She’s doing fine, she hasn’t played in months.” They do not wonder why I’m quiet, mind focused on smells of brothers long gone. The talk turns to baseball: the Lions’ record, their hometown memories. I groan as a sister would, and earn “the squeeze”–shoulders plowing into me, stopping at the threshold of pain only brothers intuit. On my deck, Dennis bitches about American beer and Japanese cars. We gossip about friends who cannot share our triangle of afternoon.
One night at the Crazy Horse I watch Tuck. His broad mustache, peach shirt, thoughtful way as he drives the darts to the board. “Teach me,” I demand, and I know he will, though we are strangers. For the first three rounds he fetches my darts, too, until I start to bounce up fast for them, the little sister. We warm up quite a while, but I think it’s the game. Then he tells me: “20, 19, 18, to Bull’s Eye: you start. Remember you want a cluster, consistency. ” Until he earns Bull’s Eye to my fifteen he gently coaches me. He’s sorry to beat me badly, is bewildered by my levity: Coached by a surrogate brother in the smoky belly of my hometown.
When I am five, my elder brother returns home to ask Dad for cash. Hurrying to my room, I scour every detail for one possession to offer him. Finally I find something that barely suffices: a pocket sized, army green transistor radio. He feigns politeness. “Nice,” then turns to Dad as my face burns shame.
Out on the concrete pad at twilight, my second (still older) brother teaches me hoops. “He’s a big man on the high school team,” Dad says: “This is an honor for a ten year old girl with only one good eye.” “Low to the ground, switch hands, between your legs.” Dribbling, lay ups, free throws: I smell brother sweat build in the air. I would sacrifice any child thing to drink in that smell. “Keep practicing–30 minutes,” and he is gone to watch T.V. with Dad. Dusk turns lonely as my momentum dies, sweat traces leaving the air.
I catch that scent again, twenty years later, when Tom escorts his lover back to our crowded table at Mad Dogs and Englishmen’s Pub. “You,” he points to me, “Are next.” Studying the beads of sweat on his sculpted face, I grow anxious for the music to start. It is easy to let him lead. His huge hands guide mine through the curves of swing. The saxophone blares. Soon I am pure intuition. As the sax crescendos he arches my back, holds my head an inch from the floor in a net of brotherhood.
Most men don’t know what I’m searching for as I scrutinize their faces, lean into them to catch their scents. Finding a lover has never been a problem. Brothers take rooting out, discovering. Their women grow angry unless they’ve molted the shrew-skin our mother’s sewed onto us for our own survival. Despite their chagrin, I continue to root out my brothers, play with them, feed them, sometimes, even, understand them. I learned young that brothers disappear. After the game, the darts, the dance: I grow hungry again.