My Brother, Antonio, the Baker

Philip Levine

Did the wind blow that night? When did it not?
I’d ask you if you hadn’t gone underground
lugging the answer with you.
Twenty-eight years old, on our way home
after a twelve-hour shift baking Wonder Bread
for the sleeping prisoners in the drunk tank
at the Canfield Station dreaming of a breakfast
of horse cock and mattress stuffing.
(Oh, the luxuries of 1955! How fully we lived—
the working-classes and the law-abiding dregs—
on buttered toast and grilled-cheese sandwiches
as the nation braced itself for paté and pasta.)
To myself I smelled like a new mother minus
the aura of talcum and the airborne, acrid aromas
of cotton diapers. Today I’d be labeled
nurturing and bountiful instead
of vegetal and weird. A blurred moon was out,
we both saw it; I know because leaning back,
eyes closed on a ruined sky, you did your thing,
welcoming the “bright orb” waning in the west,
“Moon that drained down its silver coins
on the darkened Duero and the sleeping fields
of Soria.” Did I look like you, my face
anonymous and pure, bleached with flour,
my eyes glistening with the power of neon light
or self-love? Two grown men, side by side,
one babbling joyfully to the universe
that couldn’t care less, while the other
practiced for middle age. A single crow settled
on the boiler above the Chinese restaurant,
his feathers riffling, and I took it for a sign.
A second sign was the couple exiting
the all-night pharmacy; the man came first
through the glass door, a small white sack in hand,
and let the door swing shut. Then she appeared,
one hand covering her eyes to keep
the moonlight at bay. They stood not talking
while he looked first left, then right, then left
again as flakes of darkness sifted upward
toward the streetlight. The place began to rumble
as though this were the end. You spoke again,
only this time you described someone humble
walking alone in darkness. I could see
the streetcar turning off Joy Road,
swaying down the tracks toward us,
its windows on fire. There must have been a wind,
a west wind. What else could have blown
the aura of forsythia through the town
and materialized one cross-town streetcar
never before on time? A spring wind
freighted with hope. I remember
thinking that at last you might shut up.
An old woman stood to give you
her seat as though you were angelic
or pregnant. When her eyes spilled over
with happiness, I saw she took your words
to heart as I never could. Maybe she recalled
the Duero, the fields asleep in moonlight,
maybe the words were music to her,
original and whole, words that took her home
to Soria or Krakow or wherever,
maybe she was not an old woman at all
but an oracle in drag who saw you as you were
and saw, too, you couldn’t last the night.