My Brother's Mirror
At eight years old my brother born with Down syndrome liked to shuffle down the sidewalk holding our mother's hand mirror in which he'd watch what was happening behind him. What did he see so long ago? Me on a butterfly-handlebarred bike, which he would never learn to ride, about to run him down, shouting, "Look out, slow poke! Make way, bird brain! Think quick, fat tick!" I would swerve around him at the last moment. He gazed back at me with blank cow eyes and couldn't speak. He warbled like a sparrow, drooled, and went on looking in his mirror. Did he see the wind shake the lilacs by our neighbor's hedge back and forth like handbells? They kept ringing out their sweet invisible scent. Peals of petals fell to the ground. "Look harder, Michael," I want to tell him now. "Your namesake is an archangel. Do you see Kathy, our beautiful babysitter, who will kill herself years later with sleeping pills, waving her white dishtowel to call us home to supper?" She once caught me lying on the floor and trying to look up the dark folds of her schoolgirl's wool skirt and slapped me. But don't we all walk forward, gazing backward over our shoulders at the future coming at us from the past like a hit-and-run driver? Michael, God's idiot angel, I see in your mirror our father yanking out the plugs of all the TVs blaring the evening news on his nursing home's locked ward for the demented. He hates the noise, the CNN reporters in Bam, Iran, covering yesterday's earthquake, 6.6 on the Richter scale, twelve seconds, twenty-five thousand dead, thousands more buried alive beneath the rubble. The aftershocks continue. We get live footage of a woman in a purple shawl, sifting through her gold-ringed fingers the crumbled concrete of what were once the blue-tiled walls of her house. She wails and keeps on digging. This morning I dreamed that I was building an arch from pieces of charred brick I'd found in that debris. It was complete except for the keystone, but no brick would fit. What I needed was our father to put his splayed fingers into the fresh mortar where the keystone should have gone and leave his handprints there, so I might put my palms to his. Brother, I held your hand for the first time last winter. Your fingers were warm, rubbery. The skin on the back of your hands was rough and chapped. They are the same fingers that weave placemats from blue wool yarn every day, slowly passing the shuttle over and under the warp, its strands stretched tight as the strings of a harp. It's a silent slow music you make. It takes you weeks to weave a single placemat. Brother, you dropped the hand mirror. It cracked, but didn't shatter. It broke the seamless sky into countless jagged splinters, but still holds the aspen's trembling leaves, the lilacs, you and me, all passing things.