Anne Marie Cadwallader
Brother and I
We walked across the fences bisecting home from home,
On foot by foot across the wobbly wooden ones
Or smooth concrete – we dreaded those,
Embedded with the shards of broken bottle glass.
(Where I grew up it was essential
To keep out the thieves and little boys
Who crept and darted through the yards
To steal what careless objects lay
About the shadowed dining rooms,
And even boldly plucking through
The rows of rice and cans of milk
Stored in pantries ripe with smells
Of garlic balls and tamarind.)
I was surefooted in the game, pretending
That we walked the planks from pirate ships-
The ground was seething with the jaws and yellow eyes
Of alligators and of sharks lurking in
The rooted grass and humid earth
Of neighbors’ yards and washing plots.
My brother balanced best of all, his body
A loose and stringy marionette, skimming
High along the very thinnest edge,
Skipping past the spikes of glistening glass.
There was a time when he and I
Were head to head, of equal height,
Though most of him seemed made of leg,
Propelling him, at comet speed-
The magnet glove of center field.
By nineteen months he is the older, and I-
Sweet and pesky little sister,
It was my mission in those days of Musketeers and Daniel Boone,
To keep up with him, my brother.
To join the club of pirate boys,
I was tasked a simple mission-
Retrieve the ball that they had tossed into the weedy sea next door,
A house marooned by pitted grounds
And tangled jungles of neglect,
(My parents whispered that at night it came alive
For gamblers and their entourage),
Patrolled by giant, hungry dogs,
They snapped at all that had the fate
To fall into their rank domain of kitchen scraps and chewed-out bones.
I was delighted with the challenge, but
My brother had the skittish look as if
He heard the rumble of a storm’s approach
Or perhaps oncoming tides of wrath from
Parents as they held in grief a sister sacrificed and eaten-
A postulant slain in the quest to be the One: Girl Musketeer.
And so I jumped – I saw the taunting in their eyes –
The grimy two-some, who with my brother,
Championed whimsy, warred with bandits,
Ran from amahs bent on capture,
Scorning girls and shadow sisters.
I landed in the barest strip, a patch of dirt exposed beyond
The tangled screen of vine and trees,
And shadows breathing, shadows shifting.
Glowing blue as summer skies -the ball, an orb from outer space,
Imploring rescue from the beasts that slowly woke to scent the air.
I charged the ball and threw it as
I felt the surging wind of bodies
Coming at me in full voice,
Surely drooling at the prospect of girly tidbits for their tea.
The ball sailed over as I scrambled up the wall again,
And slithered down to land headfirst
Into the safety of my mother’s ruby vines of bougainvillea.
I stood in triumph, skinned and dusty, waiting for the grand salute.
Instead I saw the backs of them, spinning dirt clods in their haste,
The Valiant Three, running
Away from me.
Perhaps a shadow flicked across the happy sunshine of my youth,
Perhaps I heard the footsteps then
As my brother moved into the world of men,
There was no joining him.
I had an ocean yet to swim, to find the shore of womanhood-
Standing in my tomboy clothes
I knew I was alone.