My Brother — A Star

“The Necessary Angel” is what Wallace Stevens called the imagination. Which begs the question, when is an angel not necessary? We need them all right now.

The following poem seeks to embody what he meant. When poet/fiction writer/brother Gary Gildner read the poem he said, “This is when the sensibility of a poet arrived for you.”

My Brother—A Star

My mother was pregnant through the first
nine games of the season.  We were 7 -2.
I waited for a brother.  My father
kept to the hard schedule.  Waking
the morning of the tenth game, I thought
of skipping school and shooting hoops.
My cornflakes were ready, soggy.  There
was a note:  “The baby may come today.
Get your haircut.”  We were into January,
and the long December snow had turned
to slush.  The wind was mean.  My father
was gone.  I looked in on my mother still
asleep and hoped she’d be OK.
I watched her, dreamed her dream:  John
at forward, me at guard.  He’d
learn fast.  At noon, my father
picked me up at the playground.  My team
was ahead by six.
We drove toward the gym.
“Mom’s OK,” he said and tapped his fist
against my leg.  The Plymouth ship that rode
the hood pulled us down the street.
“The baby died,” he said.  I felt my feet press hard
against the floorboard.  I put my elbow on the door handle,
my head on my hand, and watched the town:
Kenner’s Five and Ten, Walker’s Hardware,
Jarret’s Bakery, Shaffer’s Barber Shop, the bank.
Dick Green and Carl Stacey waved.  “It was
a boy.”
We drove back to school.  “You gonna
coach tonight?”  “Yes.”  “Mom’s OK?”
“Yes.  She’s fine.  Sad.  But fine.  She said
for you to grab a sandwich after school.  I’ll see you
at the game.  Don’t forget about your hair.”  I
got out, walked in late to class.
“We’re doing geography,” Mrs. Wilson said.  “Page
ninety-seven.  The prairie.”
That night in bed
I watched this kid firing in jump shots
from everywhere on the court.  He’d cut left,
I’d feed him a fine pass, he’d hit.
I’d dribble down the side, spot him in the corner, thread
the ball through a crowd to his soft hands, and he’d
loft a star up into the lights where it would pause
then gently drop, fall through the cheers and through the net.
The game never ended.  I fell into sleep.  My hair
was short.  We were 8 and 2.

-for my mother and my father

–Jack Ridl

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33 thoughts on “My Brother — A Star

    • Jill, thank you for your affirmation. Believe me, knowing something matters
      is what keeps any of us walking on. How else can we know?
      Again, thank you.

    • I thought about not sending this one because of all the sorrow. And then I thought, “NO! People need to get
      back in touch with their OWN sorrow and the right sorrow such as the hurricanes, not #45. And I thought–and I bet
      you agree–thought that maybe this poem will give permission to cry or feel or feel like crying. People need to.
      When the hell is America gonna get over its allergy to sorrow????
      You and I, Barb–we know how to “sit in sad.” (I am stealing that! : ) )
      And dear good you would think of Buzz ‘n Betty. And “OH MY!”
      I love you, ya know.

  1. Dear Jack,

    I hope and pray that the angels of Key West will guard and protect your beautiful houseboat. I spent some time on Barbuda (95% of homes now damaged) during spring break, and the aerial photos are so sad.

    On a lighter note, I was able to link Key Westers Hemingway and Wallace Stevens a few days ago by rewriting “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” as “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Big Two-Hearted River.” It was a fun exercise. Stephen

  2. Jack, I remember this poem from long ago–whether I saw it in print or heard you read it, I don’t recall. Beautiful. I just got done teaching “Out of the Cradle” again, and it strikes me that there’s a connection–the boy who’s wakened into poetry by the awareness of death–though of course your poem is very different in many ways. Thanks, anyway!

    • Jeff, What a joy as the rain rattles on the roof to see your name.
      I bet you don’t know how important you have been to and for me. For many reasons: spirit, structural
      daring, challenges to what a poem can be and do, compassion, a voice with a comic
      heart, a voice with a kind heart and and and and.

      Whitman refused to give up the ball. I was open in the corner and he drove
      the lane, pulled up and hit with two seconds left. We were behind by 27, but . . .

      Thank you for connecting with this old scribbler, very much.

    • Yes, I do know. And it’s stayed with me.
      The poem didn’t exist until AZ–After Zimmer.
      It really hit me when Gary said that. Might
      be fun to talk about that.

  3. As my son would say: “there’s water coming out of my eyes – I don’t know why” – a poignant way to begin this rainy September day. thank you, Jack.

    • Thank thee Sydnee. So gently much.
      I’m spreading the word about the anthology. Have made
      sure that all those in my workshops and one on one
      sessions are wanting it.

    • I guess, now that I think about it, that that poem is one
      of alchemy both within it and in composing it.
      Thank YOU for bring this realization to me.

    • Thank you, David! And to think that I didn’t know if it was even
      a poem when I wrote it.
      More narratives as a request is kinda like my asking you for more
      bicycles at the foot of the stairs. : )
      Fuzzy Face with a fuzzier brain

  4. Jack – that is a beautiful poem. It’s hard and lovely and moving. Thanks for sharing it.


    Jeff Munroe Vice President of Operations and Advancement

    ph 616.392.8555 x111 101 East 13th Street, Holland MI 49423-3622 [image: WTS_logo_email.png]

    • Thanks, Jeff. Took a long time to write because I
      kept breaking down. And it’s had a remarkable life.
      I had no idea then that it was even a poem. It
      took an editor telling me “Thank you for choosing
      us for this poem,” to at least tell me that it
      was one.

  5. Reminds me of the day my brother took 250 aspirin. When my parents came home an hour or two later he somehow crawled out of the closet he was in and came downstairs and told them. He survived. But no one spoke of it again. I mourned the loss of something that day, but didn know yet that I had lost something, but knew later that I lost something, that something was lost, and going on for years blaming myself with no ideas on how to handle it. But then our parents didn’t know how to deal with it either. And I used silence with my own children when I got lost trying to figure out how to handle something that there were no words for.

  6. I love the Child-Honesty of real emotion that is so innocently expressed. Glad that remained intact as you continue to gift the world with through the lens of remembrance and acceptance….and Art.

    • Charles,
      You are always so thoughtful with such insightful blendings of
      the artistry and explored subject and perception along with
      ways of sustaining this guy. I can only hope that I can
      respond in some close to equivalent way.
      Gratitude across the pond and heavens

    • If a poem is to offer a strange comfort and make one feel less alone,
      then I am grateful that it came to me and ended up with you, Glenda.
      With caring,

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