Memorial Day

In a box of books left behind,
were notes he’d hidden

among the pages, as bookmarks.
I opened each one carefully.

The letters:
Blurred ink lines on writing paper,
drafts of mail, stained.

Pleadings for a lover’s forgiveness
— and return.

In books I would have read,
like How to Make Love to a Woman,
which revealed a heart-rending note:

Is there reconciliation,
my dearest? The nights, without edges
or conclusion, spread before me
in this half-empty bed.

I folded it with care, and returned it
between pages 117 and 116,
where it came from,
just in case he should come back
and want his books.

In the intervening years
we didn’t talk, or write letters,
the infamous Christmas cards

Reading his old books,
and love letters,
in this remote dusty valley,
I’m finding revelations
of my younger brother,
the paramour, the romantic
I never really knew.

How appropriate
that he should die on Memorial Day.
The same day, we as boys
we would buy strawflowers,
from the old man down the alley,
who advertised with a cardboard sign,
Memorial Day, dry-flowers,
Only 25 cents.
Our solemn annual trip
to the Holy Cross Cemetery,
the grave of our grandfather
we never knew.

We never talked about it,
the great distance between us
that nothing could span,
a spiritual world of isolation.

I wish it were true
that you walked into the surf,
foaming, with crocheted edges,
with a thought of the great vacations
we shared, at Avila Beach
with our father on Memorial Day.

He would wear brown dress-shoes,
and dark-colored socks to the beach,
and you would too.

Sea-salt smells, waves breaking
against the pilings in loud collisions.

Mexico, a Margarita, or a beer
and a cigarette in a black cigarette-holder,
Hollywood style.
A vacation, in your favorite place
and pastime.

Starting at your bare ankles,
the tepid surf of a Mexican beach
worked its path to your waist
then lifted you and washed you away.
Saltwater, a solvent,
silver like liquid-metal,
besieges you in its soothing warmth,
makes you smile.
Your body is relaxed
to the point of complete detachment,
starts to melt away
in the warm water,
and your soul is freed,
and so, you died.

Like flotsam,
roiling in the surf
A log-ride in death,
tumbling and turning.
Face up, you are happy
and a smiling corpse
in the out-going sea
at the land’s edge.

Where days roll
lazily into each other
on tropical breezes,
the receding tide turns
like the pages of your books.

--Stephen B., Adult