I am trying to remember the last time I was angry. Or the first. Maybe I am trying to recall anger. I remember my brother, asleep in my bed, the twinge of mute resentment I felt that he was there at all. How I wanted him to wake and go and leave me to the cool quiet of the basement, where my bedroom was. He wouldn’t stir. My mother, upstairs, called for him. I don’t remember what she wanted him for, if he was due somewhere and she was waiting to drive him. I don’t remember. I looked over to the intensely '70s entertainment cabinet by the door and thought for a moment. I weighed out in my imagination the transgression I was considering. This is how I was then (and now?). The stereo sat atop the television--knobs and dials everywhere. I turned it on and cranked the volume all the way up.
I remember the song that exploded into the air: “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers. If you don’t know it, are too young--well, you have Google to quickly place yourself on that Georgia day decades ago.
My brother woke instantly, howling and thrashing. I danced over the bed, laughing at him, shouting for him to get out of my room.
The bed was against the cheap wood paneling of the wall, and when he kicked it, his foot went all the way through. I’m not sure he realized that he had left a crater in the wall. He screamed for me to turn it off, and I did, running over to the stereo. I hadn’t imagined this. Our father would be home from work that evening, and I knew I would have no good excuse.
I crouched beside the bed, whispering for him to be quiet, please. That I was sorry. He sat up, tried to punch me in the arm but missed. He left, and I stared at the hole he had made in the wall. What to do?
I considered moving this terrible painting of a ship at sea just over the hole, hiding it. My parents had tried to convince me not to pay any money for the scene, but I loved it from the first moment I saw it in the flea market.
But this wouldn’t cover anything at all. And so I confessed. I think my parents were bemused.
That painting, that hole, that impulse to avoid the truth and then to confess it all--these many years later, I want to author some sort of ars poetica. Everything is there: memory, pain, anger. I want to reach back through time to my brother, to apologize for that little slight, which I’m not sure he even recalls. I’ll ask him when we next talk. I’ll ask about the Christmas our uncle gave us boxing gloves and how we fought in the dim, dusty air of that basement.
In that light were poems. In this light. Tonight.
Paul Guest has published three collections of poetry: The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World (winner of the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize), Notes for My Body Double (winner of the 2006 Prairie Schooner Book Prize), and My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2008). His poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. His memoir, One More Theory About Happiness (Ecco), was selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. A Guggenheim Fellow and recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, Guest teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia.