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“my brother, aging in reverse” by Brandi Bird, from Arc’s 2022 Shortlist

my brother, aging in reverse

for Tanner 

if prison is a country, let it break
open like a clock on the hour. an escape
of green eyes taken like child
support, german-headed,
and arguing for the past. innocence
has nothing to do with it. my brother, born
at the edge of summer, totters
and falls. our mother screams
about paternity from the back
of a pick-up truck and i am not there.

my brother’s face
is handsome and young and he turns
eighteen and i am not there. the borders
of his story are embellished by my voice.

i am not invited. terra nullius
in this poem, a prison is a border
of barbed wire and braided hair.

our sister drives him there.

the prairie splits like rubber
on a tire, burns in front
of our low-income townhouse.

the car windows crack in the cold
like a wooden bat on the wall,
missing my brother’s brother’s
head. those people, they
just wanted to protect us
but we hurt instead. we hurt
and try on different clothes,
new cities.

my brother
on his way to visit his father
in prison. we don’t talk
about it. i don’t know
if he will go. i just know
the sweetgrass i gave my sister,
tied with orange yarn, resting
on her dash for good luck.

what happens when you are given
what you never had? a gun
in the backseat, no seatbelts,
two AM drug run from kenora.

this is a story i don’t remember.

this is the story i’m told.

my brother
in the background, a baby. he ages
in reverse. his lips split open on new teeth
and he looks so old. if his story is a country,
i settled there. i was bitten
by mosquitoes and brought
back this poem.

 


 

Glennys Egan on “my brother, aging in reverse” by Brandi Bird

Bird’s piece is a powerful exploration of the borders, real and metaphorical, drawn amongst a family by colonial violence. Yet, love persists throughout, steadfast even in the speaker of the poem’s absence and evoking the tender desire to care for one’s kin like a child, no matter their age.

 


 

Brandi Bird is an Indigiqueer Saulteaux, Cree and Métis writer and editor from Treaty 1 territory. They currently live and learn on Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh & Musqueam land. Their work has been published in Catapult, The Puritan, Poetry is Dead, Room Magazine and others.