“Barely 40, Your Brother Is Dying of a Brain Tumor” by Brent Schaeffer

Brent Schaeffer


So we make carnitas for the family. 
Ten pounds of pork shoulder carved into chunks
big as clenched fists split between two crock pots
set to slow cook for hours. You can see how big 
your brain is, teacher says, but I don’t know. 
Fore-knuckles together, I have small hands. 
Your hands mix the oregano, black pepper, cayenne, 
cumin, cinnamon, and salt. We’re expecting our first.  
Glioblastoma is your brother’s diagnosis. 
Remember visiting Bryan in Oahu? We got coffee: cold brew 
with a lotus flower tidy in the latte top. We ate musubi
then bought aloha shirts and denim at a thrift shop—
all left behind now in his apartment with the big straw hat
and ukulele, his Kazakhstani soccer jersey.  
Today your mother digests she’ll outlive her son, the pressure
building in his skull cavity. Now six centimeters, 
the tumor constricts his spine. It’s almost time.
The carnitas break down to meat juice, amino acids 
and salts. A week from now at the rec center,
like a proud wife tucking in a tail, straightening a tie, 
your mother will arrange the lei on his photo, 
her hands slow in the sun-heavy light.
Yesterday the midwives said the baby was fifty centimeters.
Even your maternity jeans don’t fit. We’re accidentally 
pregnant: living in a liminal breadth 
between experience and experiencing, life—
and all its unacknowledged risks. Shake the toy globe. 
The big picture is hidden in the flurry of this:
carnitas, cumin, fenugreek, and the ginger tea 
you drink every night to settle the baby.
At the memorial, you will wear green like the light
in the leaves. A fractal of pastel, 
almost paschal: the hunks of dead meat, 
the guitar, the light, the singing.

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Brent Schaeffer: “Lying belly down on the grey rug after church one Sunday, I fell in love with the big words from comic books (uncanny, expatriate, macabre). On camping trips, I’d play with those words telling stories to thrill my friends. Autumn, decay, woodsmoke, hot cocoa: words are still my favorite toys and poetry the best game.”

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