Song. That's the wick that burns his beauty. That's the orbit 'round his mortal heaven. My brother. He always left a burn. Or maybe it was me, the way I left him no better off than before. Shutting his door behind me on one of his demon days or even his shine days means walkin' with a little more weight. I want to help. Try love. I come back to that, get lost, come back. Some sort of balm, some sort of measure to wrap around his world that's been plenty long warped by little chemical brews, schizophrenia, garbed up in demon clothes and Fickle Jesus. Pick your hell of the day. He tells me the good and mostly bad of his days. Reassurance gets as tired as he does. But he laughs, my brother laughs, head-turning tummy laughs, fantastic broad-faced grins, child soft wise eyes, all right back at all his mess of specially touched soulsickness. Now I don't know about the sick part. The day came when I saw the sight he cast, like he was always looking at a child being born. You'd take double takes at whatever he just looked at, wondering what you missed. Some lustre that circles 'round mystery, bumps into fires, walks through Boticelli paintings, communes with baroque Italy, collects government disability checks, all that. Sometimes he's had lots of trouble with Jesus. Krishna too. But not so much with our family, considering whatever you care to consider. We're midwesterners. He being the middle of five boys, me being the youngest, with the best view up of everything coming down. So we'll start in the middle.

A wrack of nerves wedded to a symbol is what he calls it. His illness. He's had a long time to think about it. He tells me about it. Dante tossing him the ball. Colored floods of Michelangelo wash him up clean. Oh, here's Joni Mitchell singing in me, I could drink a case of you . . . The Beatles too, Ringo tells me things from his postered picture, very friendly, says my brother of Ringo, winking at his disease and me. My brother tells me about his funny tussles of worlds played out in a grab bag of art, religion, humor. I'm skipping out of high school today at his trailer home 12 years ago. Here feels normal. He says, "Religion is funny but it makes my heart stop." "That's my sickness," he says, "maybe." "But then It holds me up with shaking fingers just as I throw in the towel. Fickle Jesus." I'm heating up some of his Campbell's soup, his feet always tap, the medicine. "But Song . . . that's the wick that burns my beauty," he says, "that's the orbit 'round our mortal heaven." I can hear that shine. He tells me about it. He begins to sing, I listen, later I shut his door behind me, my feet a little heavier on this earth.

Gramma said grace is dancing with God's weight. But I'm tired, Gramma. Don't slouch, that's what she'd say. She ragtimed piano for me when she was 90 and cancerous.

Gotta think up a fake note for the principle, tired won't work . . .

angels, roll up my tongue and
eiderdown my eyes,
i'll kiss my burden yet.

t.j.m. may 95, vermont

Copyright © 1998 Tobin Jon Manley. All rights reserved.