Henry Thoreau who has been at his fathers since the death of his brother was ill & threatened with lockjaw! his brothers disease.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like Achilles smearing his face with soot,
shearing his hair at the news of Patroclus’s death,
you, too, took a step to the world of the dead
when your brother died. Bewildered,
your jaw and limbs stiffened with his.
Then it ended—like floodwaters, it subsided.
You were alive. His memory, a bright
vein of quartz looping through granite,
a glinting diagonal, unsullied and intact
within you. Oblique, flashing—
you leapt
the Emersons’ back stairs, two at a time,
rat-a-tat of a stick on a railing, children
like capes in your wake, you found the first
huckleberries, tamed the woodchuck. Borrowed
the ax, built the cabin, played your brother’s flute.
You drew the oars, then let them go.
Dear invisible, dear true,
with every endeavor, you held him close.
You swallowed the long winter—
and his lost vigor flew through you.

Copyright © 2018 Catherine Staples. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2018.