for Phillip Calderwood
At ten a.m. I stole away from your bright white room,
boarded the bus and the train, then exited past black umbrellas,
the big obscene obelisk and naked, rain-soaked cherry trees.
I walked down along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial,
down into the earth, to the year you were born.
When we were seven and nine
we pocketed our latchkeys and marched off to school
with milk money in our shoes,
slow enough to count every BEWARE OF DOG,
every tall kid punching the air,
every newspaper and frost-covered lawn,
so slow that sometimes the bell rang
while we were walking and then—then, brother,
I must have looked at you with something like hate,
for you let out a little wheeze, sat down on the curb,
and I ran and ran till you were a small thing in the distance,
a comma, bent and pausing for breath.
And now look at me: all week I’ve been walking
as slowly as I can to your bright white room,
the machine breathing for you,
slack bags of red and amber,
tubes going in and taking away.
I walk slowly to the cafeteria,
slowly to the bathroom, slowly to the hotel,
and I walked slowly this morning at eleven a.m.
past fifty-eight thousand, one hundred seventy-eight names,
slowly to the year 1973
and they are too young, all of them.
Brother, this is what I hated:
knowing, even at seven,
that there was no time left,
that I had to go the rest of the way without you.
© Brent Calderwood, 2011
reprinted by permission from The Innisfree Poetry Journal and Caesura Literary Journal