Poem of the Month: Madrigal

Brent Image for Madrigal Poem













Let’s repeat the song of
summer gutters rushing rainwater
asphalt still warm under bare feet
its wet scent sharp in our nostrils
my brother filling his pockets with worms
flooded out of earthen homes

Let’s repeat the song of
woolen Army blanket spread on crabgrass
itchy at the backs of our skinny knees
grape juice in tall metal tumblers
the taste of iced aluminum
making the back of my mouth water
as if it were crying

Let’s repeat the song of
rotten apples in the autumn yard
circling, avaricious yellow jackets
raking was supposed to be my brother’s job
while we girls set table, sorted laundry
rocked the eternal baby
but there were too many apples for one boy alone
he was so sluggish we were dispatched to help

Let’s repeat the song of
eave icicles carefully broken off
fast-melting spikes tasting mildly of dirt
snow-packed ice-slick Terhune Street
hard trudge up, dizzying flight down
my brother’s last minute veer
from River Road slush and traffic
into drifts built by plows while we slept

Let’s repeat the song of
breaking glass and blood, later regrets and stitches
when I locked my brother outside in his underwear
he pounded the door and I couldn’t let him in
too afraid of his desperate outrage
the angry squall in his dark eyes

Let’s repeat the song of
plays we put on for our parents
I was always director and sometimes actor, too
melodramas about orphans
that managed to feature a romance
obligating my brother to kiss a sister on the mouth
but only after both had held their breath
and folded their lips in tight over teeth

Let’s repeat the song of
board games and card games
heated disputes and do-overs
whether the Pick-Up stick moved
which number the spinner stopped on
my brother played with ardor
believed he could make luck
fanned out his paper money, rubbed the dice
would not let me quit Monopoly, concede at checkers
insisting I count on chance, not give up hope

Let’s repeat the song of
men moving through the neighborhood
scissors man hunched in his oily truck
gray grindstone sparking knives, mower blades
Fuller Brush man on housebound afternoons
wide case of brushes, combs, creams, brooms
early morning bounty of Dugan Bread man
we took turns picking treats from his big basket
Good Humor man on summer nights
white shirt, white pants, trim white mustache
I always got a toasted almond bar
my brother chose differently every time

Let’s repeat the last song, too
my brother at 50, magician, gambler
cancer coarsening his slow voice
scorned doctors, banked on other healers
potions, purges, light machine
he would not say good-bye
all his families slipknots on a silken cord

Let us repeat, repeat
our final day together
his lanky, ravished body regal still
stretched out on living room floor
watching the Oscars
he yearned, in the end, for simple things
to work up a sweat in the garden
to drive through the desert, top down
to play poker and win

-for Brent


Madrigal” was published in the anthology Beloved on the Earth, Holy Cow Press, Duluth, MN, 2009.


  1. I can still see his face.. this was beautiful….


  2. Beautiful and poignant. I’m sorry for your loss.


  3. P.S. I did not know Brent, but your poem brought tears to my eyes. Myrna


  4. It was a pleasure meeting you at The Noise Within last Saturday. I just finished The Shopkeeper’s Wife, and I enjoyed it immensly!! You are a wonderful writer. Take care. Myrna


    1. Glad you liked the novel, Myrna. I used to live in Philadelphia, and it was fun writing about it in a different era.


      1. I am hooked on mysteries from earlier times (even medieval mysteries) that also show the problems women faced and how they coped with them. If they are set in early England, all the better. Nonetheless, I am very much enjoying your work. Best wishes. Myrna


  5. yes what a wonderful tribute to Brent,,, i picture him in his late teens, when i met him. As I read the poem, i pictured the house, and the yard.


  6. Hi Noelle,
    I remember so many of those things and feelings, smells and sounds. A beautiful remembrance of Brent and childhood.


  7. What a beautiful tribute to your brother.


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