Poetry


   In addition to leaving behind an entire handwritten book, my brother also left six notebooks, all filled with poetry he wrote. Like his book, a lot of the poems are about his life of crime. They're inspired by the writers he most admired; Kerouac, Bukowski, McMarthy, and the like. He attempts to adopt and blend the styles of these literary cowboys, these often childish men with dreams as big as their egos and tales as crude as their stomach contents. I know from my experience in college creative writing classes that most young male writers go through this phase. This uber-macho, modern day Hemmingway phase where every sentence begins with the pour of a shot and ends with a sweaty kiss from some broad. I went through a similar one, only my influences were snarky, homosexual men from New York City who could go from downright mean to wistful in five seconds flat. I was no better writing as a homosexual man from Brooklyn than Alex was as an alcohol-soaked outsider with a gun in the glove box. But while Alex didn't live long enough to ditch this put on personae, he did occasionally let it slip.
   A few weeks ago, a former teacher of Alex's asked if I'd like to submit a poem of his to the university's journal. My first thought was to immediately decline, as I'm tired enough of reading about Alex's life of crime, and I still have 300-some pages of the book to go. But I got out the massive file folder that houses all of his writing, and got out the notebooks labeled 1-6. Every page is filled with a poem, many of which he distinguished with a big checkmark next to the title. I assumed he was checking his personal favorites, the ones he most identified with or were most proud of, so I started with those. They were exactly what I hoped they wouldn't be. Drugs and guns and general debauchery. Words written by a scared guy trying to be a tough guy. Words meant to scare and shock people, words he turned into phrases he did not come by honestly. Frustrated, I handed a couple of the notebooks to my husband who offered to help me skim. Mike also likes poetry, and knows a far more about it than I do, so I was surprised when he handed the books back to me with so many dog-earned pages. "The ones he checked may be the ones he liked, but the others are the ones that are good."
   I turned to a poem Mike marked called, Voyeur. It was a long poem about sneaking into the old house we grew up in long after our family had left. It's conceptual in the sense that my family hasn't left that house (my father still lives there) but the idea that another family bought it and fixed it up all nice is one we used to dream of. He describes the window of his childhood bedroom down to the antique lock. He mentions the loose floorboard he used to hide things under, the very one I pried up a couple days after he died to make sure he didn't leave anything there he wouldn't want our parents to find. I finished the poem and reread it again and again. There, Alex, I thought. That's the good stuff right there, and placed a big, proud checkmark next to the title.



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