Poem by Lev St. Valentine

December 15, 2023

And the Coyotes Howled

1
Your father tells you there is no easy way to say this. No
	chaser. No sugared rim.
 	The house burned down. Your brother is dead.
Say to yourself, No that’s not right. This isn’t the story that was supposed to happen. And the universe laughs and grips you by the throat.
	On August 9th your brother sets himself on fire. You are 2,849 miles away from your home that no longer exists. This is the story you get. No slice of lime, no cranberry juice. Salt the earth behind you.
 
2
You burn for eight days and eight nights. You don’t remember the plane ride to Jersey.
	Here’s what you do remember:
Going to the childhood house you’ve neglected for months. Or what remains— gasoline and mildew, acidic smoke. You go to your brother’s room, a gaping hole in the rear letting the outside in.
	No more Spider-Man on the walls. The stains on the blue carpet are gone. So is the carpet. So is your brother.
	The only thing left is a closet full of bibles. You ask God why he didn’t work harder to save him. He spits in your face and asks you the same.
        
3
Visits to the cemetery. The whole goddamn tour: a single shelf in a room full of strangers. Enough room for a photo frame.
	You’re thinking, he doesn’t belong here.
“We can’t separate the ashes for you to spread them,” the cemetery manager tells you. “It’s unholy.”
	So is lighting yourself on fire, you don’t say.
Grit those teeth, baby. Let’s not do this. Let’s just not do this.
	Look at your parents. “I don’t want to be buried next to you,” you have to decide at twenty-five. You weren’t supposed to be having this conversation today. “I want to be turned into a tree.” It is the first words out of your mouth so they must be true.
	Make me a redwood if you want to do right by me. Let me be the tallest thing in the world.
	If you cannot dig a hole to find your brother you will stretch up high. You do not believe in heaven but you have nowhere else to go but up.

4
You hear back from the police officers and firefighters.
	“It looks like he was trying to get out.”
This is the least comforting thing you can imagine. Four days he’s been dead.
	You think of the videos you found on his phone. His voice reaches you from days away. I need something that won’t fail. I need something that I can’t come back from.
	You think of martyrs. You think of arsonists making political statements.
	You think of what this really is: an unsatisfying story of a very sick child, who realized he made a mistake he couldn’t escape.
 
5
Time for the viewing. Your brother looks back at you from 200 photographs. Flowers everywhere. You’ve never seen so many lilies in your life. You didn’t know so many people cared, and you wondered where they were all hiding this whole time.
	Your mother is crying and trying to pretend she is not, which is somehow worse than just openly crying.
	You have the funeral home staff make you a pin.
Please do not talk to me.
	After everything you cannot fathom the idea of having small talk with people who do not understand. And of course they flock to you anyway.
	I’m so sorry.
	I’m so sorry.
	I’m so sorry.
	Where have you been?
	My sister killed herself too. Jumped in front of a train.
	DEADNAME DEADNAME DEADNAME.
You go outside and smoke down a joint as fast as humanly possible. Look down at your shoes. Brand new All-Stars.    
	You bought them because you knew, despite everything, your brother would’ve approved for the non-traditional. You picture him laughing and saying,   
	Really? Converse at my funeral?
Two years later you still have trouble not wearing them everywhere you go. You wear them in bed. You wear them to therapy for a year straight, where you have to sit and watch houses burning down and pretend you don’t hear screaming.
 
6
Funeral the next day. Whole church is packed.
	“You’re the pallbearer,” they tell you,
but you can’t pull through. I can’t, you say, I can’t carry him. Even in death you won’t be your brother’s keeper.
	You don’t sit in the front. You don’t look at who came. You only stare at your shoes and wait to read the eulogy you wrote. The time never comes, and nobody ever asks.
	You hold these words to this day.
 
7
You find the notes. Left outside next to a book you had gifted him the year before, I Hope You Get This Message.
	He never calls you by your name in the note. Only “my sibling,” spelt wrong.
	You knew he was burning before the fire, but not like this. Not warmer than the sun.
	And how many times have you read those words—keep coming back to this moment of death. My sibling. My sibling. My brother.
	I’m sorry I needed a fire to love you.
	I’m sorry it was not me instead.

About Lev St. Valentine

Lev St. Valentine is a queer/trans writer and artist from the Pacific Northwest. His work revolves around themes of grief, love, and transformation, and often aims to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.

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