Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #124: Observations

This week's Sunday Scribbling prompt: Observations

I am an observer, always have been. Being the youngest of five children and the only girl, it was a role I fell into easily. As a child I rarely participated in supper conversations because, frankly, they bored me and I had nothing to contribute. My parents and brothers seemed to (and still do) always talk about orchards: what scion wood should be gathered, what spray to use, what pruning needed done. I would rather have talked about people.

And so I watched them all and pondered the lives behind the tree-talk. My oldest brother is the most enigmatic, partly because 16 years separate us. I don't know him except through observation. Conversations with him seemed seeped in subtext; always beneath words was a joke I didn't get.

My brother owned his own orchard for 25 or 30 years, and during that time he had many accidents that should have been fatal. His relationships invariably failed. But in spite of injuries and heartbreak, he remained to me like some Greek hero: sharp-tongued, sharp-witted, powerful, brilliant, and arrogant. Light on his feet and absurdly confident, he was like a black cat with all its nine lives. Below is a poem I wrote years ago after a tractor accident that he somehow survived.


His girlfriends are always leaving him, crossing
the line to someone with a little less
question in his eyes. Each time one zips
up her bags, he tries death,
teasing it like a slick black
shrew, tossing it in the air like a catnip
mouse. He laps it up, then turns
his back and twitches one ear
toward the sound of tunneling
underground. He blinks, twitches
again, resists the instinct to finish

what he started. He is subtle: a fall
through the ice, a slip off a roof,
a sleep in the snow, a bottle
of whiskey. How many more times
can he escape

with only scratches, broken teeth,
frostbite on his fingers and toes?
He wears his scars
proudly. Women listen
to his stories and flock
to comfort him, running
itching fingers
down his spine.
~Sarah Cummins Small, 1999

His worst brush with death was yet to occur. Just two years after this was published as part of my master's thesis, my brother had a bicycle accident and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was given a slim chance of much of a recovery. I fed him strained plums and observed him in a whole new way. Here is a post I wrote once about that time period. Today he continues to live on his own and manage a small orchard, as well as lend his extensive expertise to the fashionable Eve's Cidery. According to my parents, he continues to improve both mentally and physically.

And that's all I know. He didn't return my text message when I was in New York this summer. He didn't come to our brother's wedding last summer, and the summer before that he told another brother and me to "come back when it isn't the busy season." Like a cat, he remains aloof. Observation is all I have.


Reflections Magazine editor said...

I always enjoy my visits here. Although I do not comment, I do read many of your posts. This one in particular hits home. I have only one brother and he is younger, but we are so very different. Although we live close by, we could not be any farther apart. Thank you for sharing this.

You have received a special mention in my blog for your contributions to the writing world. The Fearless Blog

linda may said...

This is a really good pot. Well written and interesting.

Maree Jones said...

I'm sorry, I was feeling quite serious after your post and then I read Linda May's comment which reads "This is a really good pot" *giggle*. I love the line in your poem about the women with "itching fingers" running down your brother's spine. Like they were trying to get under his skin and he just wasn't having it. Great post (or pot if you prefer). :)

gautami tripathy said...

One of my three brothers remains aloof. We all try getting closer but he steers clear of any contact with us. It hurts at times.

I liked your post.

Has anything changed?

Anonymous said...

Like the Fearless blog, I am a regular reader, but don't comment, because often I don't know what to say. Usually, it's just Wow. This is one of those times. Wow! Thank you for sharing, Sarah.