Dancing With My Brother

— Odd Fellows Hall, South Minneapolis, 1981

by Scott Lowery


That night, crossing the Lake Street Bridge,
wife beside me in our rusted Datsun, windows down—
the dog-day smells of boyhood rose off the river:
malted barley, dead carp, cut grass mixed
with gas and oil in the storm sewers.
Lost in the same long summers, my brother
and I had grown up side by side, survivors
of Sputnik, dirt-lot hardball, our parents’ dreams
that stuck in our throats like bones.
We had to veer hard to slip each other’s pull,
choosing our poisons—for me, a trade, a mortgage.
I hadn’t gone to see him once in two long
locked-up years at St. Cloud, thinking
I couldn’t take it, not knowing how new pain
is absorbed by the blood before you know it,
fast as heroin. I hadn’t learned that yet,

but at least we were meeting him now,
my cleaned-up brother and his new girl,
to hear Willie and the Bees in a soupy haze
of Camels and Panama Red, drinking Leinie’s
from plastic cups. And there he was,
paying off the biker at the top of the stairs,
then catching sight of me. His hair had grown
back out, and they’d both dressed to kill,
downtown sharp to our flannel and denim.
“How you been?”
                                  “Good, good…”
We looked and looked, the hard table
of those two years between us, as if pain
were a card game you could win by folding,
as if just now we’d come back from war
and were speechless.

                       And then it was going to be okay.
He joked with Connie until she wordlessly
forgave all the let-downs and lies, and Brenda,
teetering in heels, wanted to hear stories about him.
She sang with a band, was young for the voice she had.
Unashamed to be a little drunk and deep in love,
they danced close, and later dragged the two of us
into our own small ring, where we moved
inside the music for a long time, and
I knew then that this girl would pull him
from his sadness and save his life, as surely
as I knew myself a tradesman born and bred,
carrying the lunchbox of our work-stained father.

I was wrong on both counts, as it turns out.
The sloshy bear hug in the street,
“We’ll do this again…” Also incorrect.
Next time I saw Brenda in those shoes,
she was near full-term with their son,
while my dad and I carried Mark's ashes
in number-stamped crematorium sacks:
bits of bone, teeth, and all that dust, floating
out over fallen leaves in the damp woods.
It turns out those bags are so heavy,
you can never lose the way they feel.
Or the smell either, for that matter:
like chalk, or clay,
or any place you’ve ever called home.

Scott Lowery is a poet, musician, and retired educator, who grew up in south Minneapolis. He recently relocated to the Milwaukee area, pulled by the magnetic force of young grandchildren. His poems appear in current issues of Nimrod International Journal, River Styx, and Talking Stick; and a new chapbook, Mutual Life, is due out from Finishing Line Press in 2023. He loves reading and presenting workshop sessions to young writers, from elementary grades through college—please let him know if a school or program in your area could use a visiting poet! For contact info and workshop samples, visit