I Smoked Half a Joint and Read My Brother's Poetry Chapbook He Self-Published
I guess when I grew up I never thought I'd be living in a country where science wasn't believed, we had to re-establish that padeaophiles were bad, and Nazis were bad, and democracy was important, and nihilism was bad, and the earth would be going extinct, er, I mean that WE'D BE GOING EXTINCT, and that the people who owned the buildings of Philadelphia were mostly rentiers with the solitary goal of riding around in broken, shitty cars collecting rent, and the writers and "artists" would be very boring, dull and pretentious -- and sexual assault, that's bad -- and I didn't think I'd have to be thinking about thousands of bombs, each one with the capability of instantly murdering thousands, tens of thousands -- millions in one stroke -- I didn't think I'd have to think about these things when, as a three-or-four year old, I was perched like a wounded dove outside the bathroom, that was steamy, from my mother's shower -- the safety of knowing that she wasn't going anywhere, if only for just a few seconds, no, mama, stay here with me, I love you, don't ya know?
I grew up with three brothers, luckily. Guess my parents liked to get it on. Whatever. Their love, the love of the eighties, aw, I can see mama's hand on my father's chin, lovingly, they were in love and their love lasts, through cancer, and four devils unborn, then born, then waiting to be reborn, over and over again, I mean, who's to say what really matters, anyway? We'd stay beneath the heated waves of the downstairs vent system that went through the house. Four little young dudes tucked tightly among the heated water coursing throughout the veins of the house. It was everything we needed, it felt that way, and like the steam of my mother's shower -- o, b'jesus, she was probably worrying about a million things and didn't even know I was whistling a tune to her madness, why'd she have to always scurry away? what the hell was the rush? I was against it all. We lay there, early, in the morning hours, telling stories, torturing one another, pulling each other's hair, smacking, kicking, punching, pinching, laughing, glorifying love -- we were asleep in our own worlds, from the word go. That's my heritage. That's who we are, together. I have that blood, in me.
It would soon be lost. Because that's what the world does to us.
And that's why I love my brother, and I'm writing about his chapbook after I smoked half a joint and blew it out to the world, to nobody in particular, to the midnight expanse of South Philadelphia, the red flashing lights in the distance from the Walt Whitman Bridge. And that made me think about the Ben Franklin Bridge. I stood and danced in the kitchen, alone. Stoned. Smoking half a cigarette. Drinking a beer. Alive.
That's it, I figured. My brother is like the Ben Franklin of our times -- if even just in my life, my family. The archipelago of my ancestry, from back in Sicily, southern Italy, Germany, Finland, Ireland. The drinks that have spanned throughout the centuries. The battles of human beings in our blood. Here we are in the middle of it. This is home. There's nowhere else to go.
That was the magic of growing up with three brothers, and two parents who were always working. The best things there in front of us, we helped them to see it again. Were they listening? Were they paying attention?
I saw my parents trapped. That was the first thing I knew as a kid. I learned karate. Kicked my brother's ass -- my twin brother -- and I waited for the deluge against them, also.
The first battle between Matt and I! After the rosy beginning....
The first poem in my brother's chapbook entitled Chapbook Series Volume One: Show a Little Humanity is called "Pay It Forward".
...half of the politicians/
because the Dollar/
is worth more than the quality/
of our Earth/
and the lives/
of people on the coasts/
See, when we were younger, Matt and I, we didn't fit in. And the truth is, that I held that under my tongue and tonsils but I left it out at the curb when I walked to school as a young nihilist, a born rebel with no cause, no causation, nothing really in mind other than what was in my lunch pail, and where could I run and scream?
These few lines, from the word Go in Matt's chapbook, were invigorating to me because I knew all along what he's been trying to say, what he's saying, what I heard him say the first time he really spoke to me: I don't care what you think about me, this is how I feel. Deal with it. Fuck off. I don't care.
I didn't have those guts. And I never did.
Not until my brother showed me what it meant to be real, as we grew and we no longer lied by the vents, we didn't think about them actually. We expected the air to come through the vents, through our lungs, from the lungs of our mother and father. Somewhere through the years, we forgot about the blankets that kept us warm. It didn't matter what color the carpet was, anymore. The TV in the living room -- that was to be expected.
So the light of my brother's eyes through the years, yes, that inspired me. There was a moment, I recall, in homeroom in high school. I saw him on the morning announcements. The aura of his revolutionary spirit was first revealed to me, like a fist in my face. Matt would never have thrown a fist. And if he had done so, it would be exactly like the way I saw it on that morning, I won't forget it.
Him acting like he was Adam Lazzara from Taking Back Sunday. Swinging a microphone, rocking his head sideways, his hair in his face, like he couldn't have cared less what planet he was on, who was looking at him, whether or not he was doing something that was appropriate, acceptable, funny, rude, callous, full of consternation, no, Matt was full of life. A liveliness that had died in me, had died in all of us.
How does somebody like that know that the earth is pillaged and plundered for a profit? And what does that say for the rest of us? I wondered, from then on, why my parents had been putting up with such bullshit, to keep us warm. What if we kept each other warm? What if we made blankets like a sweatshop in the new basement we'd acquired while living in a middle-class, upper, neighborhood in the heart of the border between Marlton and Cherry Hill, New Jersey? My mind exploded when I saw my brother letting loose of his demons.
Of course, he goes on to write about the narcissism of writers. And, by god, he's right.
Everything I read from our writers today is about how unfair everything is to them. It gets old. The older you get. The more you realize this world was never fair. It was never about having safety in a bubble of bourgeoise boogers.
Still, that didn't stop my brother from supporting my writing, even when there was nothing to show for it. There still really isn't, other than some beer bottles, paintings, books, and music in my ears.
Matt showed me the music, the path, ultimately, to this point in my life.
It's funny to read a poem about him interacting with bullies. ("Childhood Bullies".)
Next, he's tired of people complaining.
Then, in "On That Boy In The Cage":
to be able to look out/
of this town home/
and stare at the Philadelphia rain./
to have something to type on,/
to play on,/
and to be left to my own devices/
Where does this Zen-ness come from my brother? How does he do it?
My small victory is my own/
and I'll fucking own it./
It may not be for everyone/
it may not be much to anyone/
but it's mine/
and no one can have that/
no one can have this tiny little fire/
that has always been burning in me/
telling me to not give up/
on what I wanted./
I'll never forget/
where I came from/
and who helped me get to here.
I almost wrote "bullshit". But it's not. I can hear my brother's voice in these lines. In his only copy of this book (I'm assuming), I've underlined the last three lines. This is exactly what he teaches me, he has taught me through the years.
It's corny, I know. Yet here we are. "In these rooms/ of sweat/ and blood,/ these rooms of chaos..." he says in the next poem. What I appreciate is his point of view from somebody who had "no where else to go". Why is my brother such a punk? At 14.
The chapbook concludes with a poem about seeing a cat for the first time. There are a few lines where "it's" should be "its". And I forgive him for that. Not because he's my brother but because the lines in these poems are alive. Like him. There is a rawness, here. Which is easy to say. But it's much harder to write, for most people. I know my brother is a writer.
He taught me how to be one. The practicality of his words was instilled in me plenty of years ago.
What my brother doesn't know is that I am a sponge.
That's the thing about having somebody around, somebody you want to be around. They teach you things, and you learn and get better. My brother has always done that for me. These poems are no different.
In just 18 pages, I can learn more about him than he'd ever tell me in person. His address is even on the last page.
And on the back:
dedicated to those
who lost their homes
while I sit
Dammit. My brother's sappy as hell.
Okay. Time to listen to songs about girls while I paint my feelings onto a canvas in the kitchen.
HERE'S A LINK TO MY BROTHER'S CHAPBOOK: Chapbook Series Volume One: Show a Little Humanity