Thanksgiving: Visiting My Brother on the Ward


 Peter Schmitt

 

Behind the thick, crosshatched glass of the cruiser,

my brother, back for the holiday, breathes

more slowly. A phalanx of uniforms

cloaks the open door, murmuring to him

where he sits. The carving knife is somewhere

out of reach, none of us so much as scratched.

Inside, the bound bird cools on the butcher block.

 

Later that night I move through many doors, each

locking behind me, each inlaid with the same

heavy glass as the squad car. Through the last

I see my brother's face, fixed as on a graph,

ordinate, abscissa. When he sees mine

he retreats from the common room to his own,

a bare cell he shares with a narrow bed.

 

He will not speak to me, at first. His fingers

move in perpetual chafe, like a mantis,

his lifelong nervous habit, the edges

of a newspaper shredded on the bed.

This time, his eyes say, we have betrayed him

as never before.  This time, he seems to say,

he cannot find a way to forgive us.

 

At last I persuade him to join the others

finishing the meal, their plastic utensils

working the meat, their low voices broken

by stray whoops of inappropriate laughter.

We sit, though, in a separating silence,

my brother's hand already eroding

his napkin, eyes distant with medication.

 

If only he were faithful to himself

and took his daily pills... But what is the point

of such a constancy when the world itself

has so profoundly turned away? As tonight

I will leave him here, leave all of them here,

the psychotics and depressives, my brother,

to lie on their beds and stare at their ceilings,

 

and I know that for at least this visit

he will not come home, where our parents now sit

in darkness, their faces streaked and damp. And when

we drive him to the airport, an unmarked

police car following as an escort,

he might be a foreign dignitary

bearing developments back to his country...

 

For now, though, it is just two brothers, beneath

a glaring bulb. The expression on his face

would ask, Have you gotten what you came for?

And again I have no answer for him.

But there, at the floor of the bed, all around

the room, are crumbs of paper, as if he were

leaving a trail by which he might be found.