I am an assistant professor at Chadron State College in northwest Nebraska where I teach writing and American literature. I received my PhD from Ohio University and my MFA from the University of Idaho. Despite another disappointing season, I am also a diehard Boston Red Sox fan.
In the ending of my brother’s life,
which is not the real ending of my brother’s life,
there will not be abandoned train tracks,
his shoulders fitted as if in a casket
between the rails.
The city of his murder—its sidewalks
of trash and second-hand stores—
will no longer be the place
where, at twenty-one, my brother wanders
beyond street lamps for a dime bag of dope
only to be assaulted by the purple force
of a tire iron.
In another city—the only one I can imagine
if he had lived—waits the arthritis
which will, for these few moments,
haunt my brother’s knees
at sixty. It’s a cold city where wind
travels hard through the streets and his lungs
struggle from nicotine ache.
Above a twenty-four hour
dry cleaner is a small apartment
where my brother, pepper-grey moustache,
watches television, his cigarette smoke
with each slow year
paints the ceiling yellow.
Evening after evening he wanders
this city—past a parking lot half-filled
with rusted cars, a motel whose few tenants
shoot heroin behind locked doors.
Here it is always December,
my brother one of several
grim men walking the sidewalk.
And because he has no money
and the drunks at the bar
seldom remember his name, my brother,
lost in a storm of thoughts,
dials my house at a blurry hour
on one of those curbside payphones
that has survived
well beyond its real end.
Tired, I will not consider
how good it is to hear his voice
or how fortunate I am
he wants to joke about the Red Sox
last place finish—his fingers grasping
the metal cord tight—but will only
feel bothered, pulled once again
from my welcomed sleep
by the burden of his needs.
I watched each Thursday night, 9:30,
on the twenty-five pound television I rescued from the basement
when I was twelve, its twisted rabbit ears barely capable
of capturing the distant signal of Doogie Howser, M.D.
This was the half-hour I sealed myself in my bedroom
away from my mother sitting at the kitchen table
blankly staring at the unwashed floor.
Doogie's parents—Katherine and David—might have quarreled
with Doogie over his purchasing a '57 Chevy convertible,
but in the end problems dissolved—
of course Doogie would return the very-red convertible
and make instead a thoughtful donation
to the Lackmore Institute for childhood leukemia research.
And then there was Doogie's genius:
perfect SAT score at six, Princeton graduate at ten,
licensed physician by the age of fourteen.
Not that I identified with Doogie—who could?
But in each episode there was Vinnie Delpino,
Doogie's best friend, who—like me—struggled
to distinguish himself; his father too was distant
as the icy blue sky. And even if Vinnie's mother wasn't lost
in a black fog depression, both of us wanted to be included
in the annual Howser family camping getaway.
When Vinnie entered Doogie's house I sensed his relief
at the living room's cleanliness: no lopsided pile
of newspapers, months old, by the broken lamp,
no dinner-plate size wine stain on the dirty couch.
And then there were those invented episodes
of me taking Vinnie's place. Afternoon upon afternoon
I walked from school imagining I was headed
toward the safety net of Doogie's house.
Me—his welcomed best friend—listening to Doogie
recount how his gifted mind solved
each problem at Eastman Medical Center.
Even though Doogie had no interest in sports,
his father would still be my basketball coach—
he'd be the one to insist
I had the best ball-handling skills on the team.
It didn't matter if my own father, drunk,
walked angrily past my room. The door was locked
and once again I had successfully contorted
the television's rabbit ears to produce
an only slightly-blurry signal. Hours after the episode ended
it was Doogie's mother I heard
carrying the Howser family laundry down our hallway.
It was her dress that brushed against my door.
©2015 Steve Coughlin