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My Brother, Named and Unnamed

My brother is the smallest man in the world.

I’m not even kidding. Most of the time, he lives in my jacket pocket. One kernel of popcorn will keep him going for weeks. It’s hot in there, in my jacket pocket, and hard to breathe, probably. But he needs so little air. Sometimes, I take him out to impress a girl. It rarely works. When we drive, well, when I drive, I keep him tucked behind one of the plastic air conditioner vent grates. If he complains too much, I just turn the fan up a notch. And, I’ll confess this only to you, on more than one occasion I’ve used him to get out of a speeding ticket. My brother used to ride on the rearview mirror, laughing and swaying to beat the band. But once, he fell into my iced latte. Talked non-stop for three days. Annoying as hell. Don’t tell him this, but I thought he was going to drown, there in my coffee. I thought he was a goner. I got really scared. That’s when I started planning his funeral. Don’t tell him this either. I’ve been adding details ever since. The service. The guestlist. Eulogists out the wazoo. More hibiscus than you can shake a stick at. Violinists to boot. And good god, the foodstuffs. Don’t tell him. You can come. I’ll put you on the invite list. It’s going to blow your mind. It’ll be the biggest funeral in the world.


My brother is a tree stump.

Don’t laugh. He’s sensitive about it. My brother is a tree stump. Ash, maybe. Or poplar. I don’t pay that much attention sometimes. Axe-bitten, either way. Speaking of which, I propped a piece of plywood against him, painted a bullseye on it. “Stop it,” he said. Then tripped me with a dead root. He used to make fun of my skinny legs. Our mother never knew what got carved into the bark of his trunk. He’s always after me about the goddamn chipmunks. They won’t leave him alone. But I’m busy, so. When I want him to shut up I whisper pole saw and gaffe. We both fear the word arborist. But not for the same reasons. He did, once, in deep winter, reveal that he wished he was a pine. A pitch pine. Pinus Rigida. Though, maybe he said walnut. I don’t pay that much attention. The best times?  After the sun gets low, and there’s no need for shade. I lean against him and we share a beer. We look up and up together and talk about all of his branches.


My brother speaks red dirt. Only.

No. Turpentine too, but not so fluently. And only in the hottest part of July. One time he tried to speak to us in drafting pencil and ruler. He got choked on eraser crumbs and we almost lost him. The esophagus is wily and cannot be trusted. One time, in a cave made of packed red clay, he pretended to speak Marine. Ready to die for our country. We almost lost him.  If not for the flounder bone caught in our throats, collectively, we would have wailed. That time he joined the choir? Every note, a glazed pot. A cracked vessel. If not for the throats caught in our bones, we would have wept. The mouth is an exit wound.  Everything from this point forward will be a lie.

Steven Sherrill is a graduate of UNC Charlotte and holds an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The recipient of a NEA Fellowship for Fiction, he has published four novels and one book of poetry. His debut novel, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, was published in the UK and translated into eight languages. Neil Gaiman selected it as one of six audio books to launch “Neil Gaiman Presents” for Audible.com. A prolific painter and nascent musician, Sherrill is now a professor of English & Integrative Arts at Penn State Altoona.

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