Sarah Marina

Sarah Marina was born in Newport, South Wales. Her work has appeared in AmbitPoetry WalesHotel3:AM Magazine, and the Verve Anthology of City Poems.
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The Brother Myth


The skin on your nose had a line down the middle. A dent or a soft fold – somehow, a soft folding of the skin. And when I looked again, there was a doubleness to your face. The line of symmetry was a crease on your body. As though your face had been arrested at the moment of coming together in the womb. This trace of activity had not been smoothed over. I couldn’t see the rest of your body, wrapped in its white crocheted shawl. Only your face. But I know now that one of your arms was missing. 


Ten days after the photograph was taken, you died. Or maybe you were already dead. In any case, your eyes were closed. I never met you. At least, I don’t remember. In what place, then, can I have imagined you? 


Not in a garden, sitting under a tree, cut grass sticking to your knees. Or on a rock-pooled beach, making sandcastles with bucket and spade, turrets pressed with plastic windmills and tiny paper flags. You wouldn’t survive there. You never followed me there. 


Hold out your hand to me and take me to the place where I can imagine you, where your presence is a wire, a smooth tautness I can touch. I want us to have meant something to each other. I want to have a language of meaningful looks passed between us over years and years. 


Brother. I want to kiss you. I want you to remember me.


Say this happened: I met a man. I developed a craving for him. Then I realised, it was you. What I mean is: this is how much I have wanted you. Memory is not relevant to you, or language. So I can say, it was very close to sex, my wanting of you. Felt so near to sex that I mistook the physical sensation. The nervous, jangling energy. I wanted you, never having seen you. 


You are not broken. I want to say this to you. I want it to be true of me too. 


See into my mind. Feel its wound-up quality. Say: I know you believe you are broken, but you are perfect. You’re younger than me, a foot taller and strong and when you hold on to me, impossibly, I think: You could have been so tender. It doesn’t matter now. I can’t hurt anyone with these thoughts.


Bloodless, pearlescent skin, eyelids like bruises. Let me see if I can make you look at me. Your eyes, when you open them, are like mine, and there’s no time on your skin, no freckles or lines. I want you to remember that I am your sister, that something about us is the same. I’d like that to be true.


I could say you were alive for ten days. You died on the tenth day. I could say that. I have said it; it’s true. But this is also true. You are so alive, more alive than any of us. Never spoken about, but louder in your absence than I have been for all this time. 


You were never a ghost. I have never been afraid of you, in that sense. I did believe in ghosts: statues moving, strange women appearing at the end of my bed. I couldn’t get to sleep in the dark. But you were never ghostly to me. You were something I hadn’t yet been able to imagine – a brother I could see, speak to and touch. Far stranger than a ghost. Ghosts seem to disappear and come back to us. You were there all the time, like the coating on the surface of the kitchen worktop. The thick layer of yellow grease that settled into the crack between the cooker and the cupboard’s edge. Sometimes I tried to gouge it out with a blunt knife, but it was no good. It always came back.


You’re like those words I embarrass myself mispronouncing because I’ve only ever seen them written down: paradigm, hyperbole. 




I am profoundly ignorant of brothers. I don’t have the requisite grief to conjure with. I am only the sister. I am not the father or the mother. I never carried you. Did I imagine you? I haven’t earned the right to grieve.


You remain in that primal infant state of pure desire, experiencing a single physical urge at a time. This is what I want all people to be – easily decodable, single emotions passing across their nervous systems. You love me. Love me. You want to kiss me. Kiss me. You hate me. So hate me. You are hungry. Then feed. Nobody is ever this easy to read. Except me. I would be wholly readable to you. You would feel exactly what my body was telling you – a pulse passing between our hands without touching – and you would know me for what I am. Always wanting more from other people, from myself. But you would see all this, and that would quiet me.


I know that you must have been baptized. By a priest in the hospital, probably. Apparently even a layperson can do it in extremis. Should I have asked you to pray for me? To intercede? I don’t really know what prayer is. But I think it might be something like this – a practice for extending our tolerance of uncertainty. 


I can’t imagine you on dry land. But I can see you treading water. You’re waiting for me to get close enough, playing innocent til you can catch me and duck me under. Desire is the sky not being too blue but just blue enough, and being far enough away from land that I can’t hear the calling from the beach anymore; and your torso, silver dashes trembling underwater, and eyes which seem rimmed with kohl; and I can read bone and muscle under your skin; and I envy this easiness you have with your body which I have invented. 


When I was eight I played this game at the edge of the waves. I imagined I was a princess running away to sea. I had riches too heavy to carry. I dug a hole in the sand to bury them, so that I could come back for them. Were you there when I looked out to sea, when I swam out as far as I dared – further than I could stand – before I was afraid and turned back? Were you the wave that lifted me? See how sentimental I get. Are you carrying me still, back to the land? Somewhere to place my feet. This reaching after certainty. You were my late twin, waiting to be born, then finished before I could meet you.


Where do you live? Why do I put you in all these places? 


You are a physical sensation: a buzzing in the lungs, an ache beneath the breastbone, the beautiful panic of a school-age crush. I want to be knowable to you. I would be wildly delighted if you remembered my name.


I feel like I know what kind of boy you’d be, and I could never talk to that boy if he were a stranger. I am easily intimidated by beauty. 


There are certain times, like when you feel juice from a ripe peach spill onto your lip and imagine yourself being appealing to some other person. And then you wipe it off – juice, thought – and remember you are unlovable. But I believe this about you: I know that you did not love me, but that you could have done, if given the chance. I believe that you were capable of it. 

I stand at the mirror, undressing, and compare myself to you. Your eyes are closed in brotherly modesty. Mine are not. This is all anyone will ever be able to say about me: in contrast to her brother, her eyes were open. She was trying to see.


I see the bruises: olive green and purple on my thighs, on my upper arms. Sometimes it is tiring, this carrying on. If I lie naked in the garden, with absolute certainty at some point the weeds will simply grow over me and then I will be covered. Something about you, a subtle shift of posture, tells me that you do not approve of this line of thinking. It lacks rigour. And a sense of doubt.


O angel of sickness, O doubter.

I think I have been speaking to you all this time through bodies I have wanted. Beautiful boy bodies. Boys with mouths full of words and shattered expressions.


Suppose I imagined you. Suppose you were never really there. Suppose all these letters turned to blue shifting patterns, or like the silver that curdles on the surface of waves and can’t be caught. I have to try rescuing myself. By taking you inside my skin. By holding you here, by colouring you in. By tolerating your uncertainty. I have to try, or risk being dashed against something unforeseen: the rock beneath the wave. Or being trapped somewhere: a smugglers’ cave, a deep muddled silence.


Afterwards. Everything is afterwards. The dream, the retelling, the pirated copy. Everything that is alive is agreeable once again, smoothed over, placed back out of reach. A kiss on a baby’s cheek which they will never notice, which will not register as a sensation on their days-old skin. I am not waiting for you anymore. You look at me, quizzically, in that way you never had. I am imagining you absent from the photograph. The pale crocheted shawl piled in empty folds inside the white and gold frame.