Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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My Brother the Artist, at Seven
after Philip Levine’s “My Brother the Artist, at Seven”

As a boy he played alone among the bougainvillea
overhanging the brick-and-cement walls of cloistered
gardens, the neon-bright houses sprouting a lazy oval
around the dusty playground. Neighborhood dogs
knew him; he said hello to them solemnly, in languages
made up and familiar, noting each one’s responding
doggy smirk to his small hand outstretched to them,
singing to himself. The first and only grandchild,
adored, gilded, the world was always his. How could
it not? Long legged as a waterbird he spirits himself
out of the house before dawn, the damp air just
beginning to wake to summer. He pretends that
the ether and everything under it is made of words,
that the invocation of each in his fluted voice is what
stains the petals of magenta nine o’clock flowers, lifts
the sun along some hidden axis, makes the ice-blue
dragonflies buzz through air thickening like honey.
Pulchritude, incandescent, fecund, ichor, rapscallion,
elation, stelliferous, he repeats the words to himself,
remembering the shape of mouth and tongue as they
anchor each one to what he conjures: stars in daylight,
spiders stalking sky, tigers laughing at their reflections,
birds growing wings of sunlight. The earth is his alone.
When he hears his name called, he falls silent, rigid against
the slender trunk of a tree cotton, white silk spilling out
of the boll clutched in his hand. In the undergrowth he
spies the young hawk, tremulous, yellow eyes unblinking,
assessing, dangerous. The noise of morning falls away as
he mirrors its gaze, quiet, small hand suspended midair,
motionless as a cat stalking its prey, an old language
taking new form: fugitive, fierce, empyreal.  

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