What the older brother squandered
was his sweat,
which, had he known it was as dissolute as life in the far country,
he might have traded out for something more exciting.
But his fierce fidelity to the American dream
was his particular delusion.
“Virtue can be earned in honest labor.”
Only honesty was not his aim.
He sought the umpire’s chair at Wimbledon—
six feet above contradiction.
He knew the score before you ever served a shot.
You’d never be as pure as he.
What pious poppycock!
As if sweat doesn’t also stink
with the same odor of self-righteousness.
As if he couldn’t also build in his head
a god of his own—
one who makes stringent law
violable only by the older brother
(whose offenses caused negligible offense.)
Loose living. Hard labor. They’re all the same.
Facades for our tragic inability to see
that on the other side of them,
and shot through within them,
is the grace we’ve never known
and dare not hope to find.