Home Literary Arts Build a Brother by Elizabeth Ashe

Build a Brother by Elizabeth Ashe

Build a Brother by Elizabeth Ashe

Dear Brother,

I have not seen you in fifteen years.
I’m not sure how to miss you.
At first it was easy,
plug in your Super Nintendo
and sit down with a book –
our mutual way of hiding.
Lately it has been accidental,
like when our nephew Sean
played with your Legos.
You always made space ships,
I always made houses.
Sean has never heard your voice,
and I don’t know if he ever will.

I pulled you white plastic megaphone
out from a box, my last visit home;
hung it on a hook in the basement.
The metal lip amplified your voice,
reaching further than your arm.
Your voice became grit, pushed against the hallways.
Nothing worked to tame you,
not hearing the version I remembered –
Mom left Dad with both of us.
I remember the loaded station wagon.
You said you believed me, Mom fought for you.
I knew you did not want to live with Dad.
The dry echo of your voice lasted a year.

Pool Table

I couldn’t reach the felt top
without jumping.
Yet, we tried to play,
one sticky sweet swelter
of an afternoon in Ramona.
He missed the pocket
and the ball hit me.
Instead of crying for Dad,
I picked one up and threw it at him.
It was payback;
I threw it wrong,
or he moved
and it made contact with his jaw.
His cries opened up the sky
and everyone was there.
Never, never throw something
heavy at your brother.
It could kill him.
It doesn’t matter that he started it,
or why. You’re older.
It’s only a ball.
You knew it would hurt.

Mom took us to Woodfire Pizza
for Wednesday Dinner Nights.
It was more adult than Chuck E. Cheese,
full of arcade games, pool tables,
and she could get a beer.
I’m tall enough to reach the table now,
to manipulate or fail at the physics of cue
and trajectory, run a table for hours.
At least, for an hour.
Mom taught us how,
but only until the pizza arrives at our table,
too hot to eat.
We poke at it with soda straws
to cool it down, until she sends us off
on our own with a roll of quarters.
When we grew tired of pool,
I used a few coins for the bouncy ball machine.
He bought jawbreakers.


I didn’t say Hello.
I saw you today. Little brother, that scar
under your eyebrow has stretched
beyond its eight stitches.
You were seven when the hammock
flipped you onto the rock porch,
because Dad said the eighth stitch
was one knot to grow on, like candles.

It was Dad who I had to grow away from,
not you. As kids, you and I were different.
I read, could always out-run you,
raised rabbits and was shy with everyone.
You picked fights, got detention,
ran pigeon-toed and played Nintendo.
The last I heard, you asked a real estate agent
for help and she found Mom.

The agent you asked for help, found Mom,
who flew down to Palm Springs to get you.
It didn’t work. It never worked
and here I am at twenty-six, in the computer
section of Best Buy. You are ten yards away,
amidst customers on the hunt for deals.
I might as well be someone you have never met.
You haven’t seen me.

You haven’t seen me wait for your attention.
I messed up what I planned to say, the lie —
My photography needs a computer upgrade.
What do you have?
You probably thought I was tired or had a crush.
Your name tag doesn’t lie when I insisted I knew you;
I am your sister.

I’m your sister. You shook my hand,
something Dad would have you do.
Your shoulders slope too much for your height.
I said I was in town for Grandpa, was in the store
on the way to the border to take pictures in Tijuana.
You told me to stay put, we’d go for pizza and a beer.
You vanished into the storeroom and didn’t come back.
I didn’t say Hello.

Build a Brother

I have photographs of you,
but they are not real.
They have no breath; they are static
and posed in a sweater, a plastic fern smile.

What I know,
is a watercolor and crayon drawing
you made when you were ten.
When all the shit was reigning
and nothing helped.
After I kept you from jumping off the balcony.

Your neck is too long.
Your teacher or therapist said it is a symbol
for feeling out of body, out of control
and yet, constrained.

The portrait is you
with a buzz cut, cat ears, tears,
my blonde braids, a soccer ball,
Nintendo gamer keys
and a storm cracked sky.

It is almost
a momento mori
in a white wooden frame,
hung in mother’s office these 24 years.

Another Decade

Dear Brother,
It has been another decade.
Now you’re 36 and I have 40 in my sights.

I have hopes for you,
the kind a sister still has
for her kid brother,

hopes that formed as I tried
and failed to teach you to read.
Hopes that I cried away at 12.

There has not been a word, a like, a text,
since I went to see you at Best Buy.
When grandpa was still alive.

Mom has written you out of her will.
Not out of malice, or need to disavowal but because
she knows the odds are against her

to see you again. Odds against
us all reconnecting. Unless Dad dies.
And yet, she knows I’d do right by you.

So many years of her life went
into fighting to keep you. The last ten,
to build peace and security back into her life.

Elizabeth Ashe is a sculptor and poet, who earned her MFA from the Mount Royal School of Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and an MFA in creative writing from Chatham University. Her public art projects have been on view at the Bemidji Sculpture Walk, Sukkahwood Festival, Art All Night DC, and the H St Festival. Ashe’s poetry has appeared in Yellow Medicine Review, the Lavender Review, Vagabondage, and Badlands Literary Journal, among many others. Her work is included in Studio Visit Magazine, issue 46. Ashe lives in Washington, D.C., where she has an active studio practice. She is the Gallery Manager for DC Arts Center, and Exhibit and Event Technician at the Katzen Center, American University.

Image: Elbow Mountain by Elizabeth Ashe. Used by permission.


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