The Night Before I Leave Home

my brother gets out of bed at three, having lain down
only a few hours before, and pulls on his jeans, and stubs his toe
     on the doorjamb,
and cuts himself, just a scratch, reaching too fast in the dark

for wallet and keys—and the weapon? A bill, probably.
He goes out under the huge sky, out of the small house
and beyond, fields upon fields, where as children we played
     hide-and-seek and tag

and all those games, I miss them. All we imagined. In my
     brother’s mind
the fuzziness of the awakened-too-soon after not-enough-sleep
and the resentful calm that comes

when doing your duty to those you love,
to whom you could not
do otherwise.

He drives too fast, as always, braking hard when he
     finally arrives
at the meadow my car slid into before it slid
into an oak

where a whitetail hangs, strung
by its hind legs to drain the slit throat.
It takes more time than I expected

for death to be over,
I tell my brother. And he, a hunter, says, Yeah
in the tone that means, Of course.

And years later I have the same voice
when he calls at 4:17 a.m. and I knock the phone off the bed,
answering almost upside-down, stretched toward him.

His pain then, I lived for it, I realize now.
Not for its existence, but to quiet with my words.
I had left so long ago. I had left.

The doe’s eyeshine keeps us company. We joke
about our dead new friend. We share a half-drunk fifth
of Jim Beam tugged from under the passenger seat.

By the time the tow truck rumbles up, it’s well into dawn.
We are giddy—like children
who have played a game so wholly they have forgotten

the rules of the real world, and naturally
don’t want to remember. My brother turns to me near sunrise
to ask, What do you think he’s doing? Right now?

And I spin a story of a father
waking to polish his teeth, spit blood
into the eye of a porcelain bowl, wash a face like my brother’s.

That was a game, yes, us seeking the man
he was when not hurting us one and then the other,
and then the game ended

as children’s games do, when authority says
it’s time to disperse,
when the other gets on a plane, and one is left.


Excerpted from GRAND TOUR: Poems by Elisa Gonzalez. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2023 by Elisa Gonzalez. All rights reserved.