The heart is a blunt instrument.
Feel it bang inside ribs,
batter the body
senseless. With longing,
we learn from it
how to submit.
The sharp edge of him as he turns
away, not a circle,
but an arc, undefined,
carved from your center.
How you will bleed
when he goes.
I have come to learn that if there is one thing I am good at, it is holding on to things long past when I should learn to let them go. How else to explain how nearly 11 years gone and I can still be mad at my brother and miss him with equal ferocity? How else to explain how when a motorcycle accelerates around me and I see the wind whipping through the driver’s dark hair, that something inside me stutters, sometimes aches?
Even the tangible things, I am no good at letting go of. For more than a year after he died, I kept a dead fish in my freezer. Wrapped in tinfoil, his sloppy handwriting still on the outside, that last bass was hoar-rimmed, frost-laden, well past edible. From its perch on the top shelf, it would startle me sometimes when I restocked the frozen dinners, a body I had yet to bury, one more thing of his I couldn’t bear to put away.
Even as recently as six months ago, half of the shirts I wore to bed originally belonged to men that were now dead. And nearly 11 years later, I still call that Nirvana shirt his, though the truth is that by this point I may have been wearing it longer than he ever did.
He gave me that last bass shortly before my 26th birthday, just a few short weeks before he died. That day I watched him clip stories of arrests for poaching from a newspaper at our mother’s kitchen table, studying other versions of his own crime. It wasn’t just a fish he was giving me after all; it was evidence.
As he cut the paper, I watched him wield the scissors awkwardly with his left hand, watched the strips of paper billowing down to the table top in a way I’d re-imagine later as little clouds spiraling, settling on mountain tops. He wore the oversized black Adidas sweatshirt I’d keep for years, his dark curling hair resisting its ponytail. He lectured me on how to avoid arrest, how to lie flat in the weeds on the bank when you heard a car, how to get the fishing equipment down to the spot without being seen. He knew me well enough to know that I’d never try it, being the more rule following one of us two. But I think he liked my amusement at his antics, my occasional eye roll.
He drank Windsor and Coke from a plastic movie souvenir cup, smoked a cigarette he held between forefinger and thumb, sucked emphatically as if to punctuate each word. I held my own differently, lazier, less purposefully. It was the last part of August, and we watched the sun tipping golden over the horizon from our mother’s deck, the smoke steadily and slowly rising from our hands.
I have wanted to freeze this moment, to rewind it, to replay it over and over. And indeed, in my head, I have often done so. But like a tape rewound and run too many times, even this memory has become distorted. Of all the things I am good at holding on to, what I’ve wanted to keep most, his voice, I am no longer sure of. Only the bass, his hands, that too bright light I had to turn away from, the leaving—of these things I am sure.
I could never bring myself to eat the evidence; only glimpse the fish floating around on the periphery of my vision before I’d slam the freezer door shut, like some kind of dumb, blunt instrument, wounding me anew. Because, after all, it was the last bass, and my brother would bring me no more.