Marie Howe's poems have appeared in the Atlantic, The New Yorker, Agni,
Harvard Review, and New England Review, among others. She was a fellow at
the Bunting Institute and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts
fellowship. Her first book, The Good Thief, was selected by Margaret Atwood
for the National Poetry Series.
How Some of It Happened
My brother was aftraid, even as a boy, of going blind--so deeply
that he would turn the dinner knives away from, looking at him,
he said, as they lay on the kitchen table.
He would throw a sweatshirt over those knobs that lock the car door
from the inside, and once, he dismantled a chandelier in the middle
of the night when everyone was sleeping.
We found the pile of sharp shining crystals in the upstairs hall.
So you understand, it was terrible
when they clamped his one eye open and put the needle in through
and up into his eye from underneath
and left it there for a full minute before they drew it slowly out
once a week for many weeks. He learned to, lean into it,
to settle down he said, and still the eye went dead, ulcerated,
breaking up green in his head, as the other eye, still blue
and wide open, looked and looked at the clock.
My brother promised me he wouldn't die after our father died.
He shook my hand on a train going home one Christmas and gave me
as clearly as he promised he'd be home for breakfast when I watched him
walk into that New York City autumn night. By nine, I promise,
and he was--he did come back. And five years later he promised five
So much for the brave pride of premonition,
the worry that won't let it happen.
You know, he said, I always knew I would die young. And then I got sober
and I thought, OK, I'm not. I'm going to see thirty and live to be an old
And now it turns out that I am going to die. Isn't that funny?
--One day it happens: what you have feared all your life,
the unendurably specific, the exact thing. No matter what you say or do.
This is what my brother said: Here, sit closer to the bed
so I can see you.
Copyright © 1998 Marie Howe
From What The Living Do
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.