Tom, you used to stink of cigarettes.
I’d find you, feet up, smoking in your chair
when I got home from work. The Phillies on.
We’d grunt—if that—for a hello. No need
for anything more formal between brothers.
You loved TV, baseball, and Marlboros.
You were the laziest person I knew.
And now you’re as gone as Harry Kalas.
But even then your blood was poison, your body
plotting its betrayal with the virus
that, much too soon, would open up the gate
for Death’s indifferent agents to slip through.
And I feel like a rube. I always thought
the Marlboros would be what did you in.
I’ll admit I stayed away.
We all know it. I prayed.
Sure, I prayed, but stayed away
From you, the shade of what you were.
No one wants to see his brother
That way: shrunken and afraid
Behind a hospital tray. I tried
But couldn’t handle it.
I stayed away. Hid from it.
I was afraid. I thought
I might delay what would happen.
The fast approaching day.
What’s there to say? You hit
Some tender spot. You lay there,
Half the weight you used to weigh.
I stayed away. I didn’t want to hear
The way your voice was all unmade.
I couldn’t stand to think of it.
We played blackjack. You’d hardly
Say a word. I shouldn’t have been that way,
But how could I convey my love?
You lifted your lids only half-way
To watch the nurse carry
The get-well bouquet away from you.
Luke Stromberg’s work has appeared in The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Hopkins Review, and other journals. He lives in Upper Darby, Pa., and works as an adjunct English instructor at Eastern University and Cabrini College.
“Rube” appeared in Shot Glass Journal; “Visiting Hours” appeared in Think Journal.