D.E. Steward

We slept in the same room for years  

“When we think of being we arrive at our real home”  (Heidegger)

Which is the sort of thing we would often talk about

He was serious

And we were serious together 

On a train through the Ukraine from Moscow to Sevastopol, he was in the corridor talking heatedly with two Iraqis 

Iraq had just reestablished diplomatic relations with the USSR, they were probably from the Iraqi embassy, older, seasoned

There were strong words, my brother’s raised-voice lecturing being countered in sputtering Arabic

They jostled him and then one went for him hard

Fast, I got him out of the corridor and back into a compartment

He was so intelligent, but would flash out impulsively 

And he never quite realized

When he was a Columbia graduate student once I took him to a bus upstate in Sidney on the Susquehanna, and it was late and lonely and we both cried

We sat there in the car waiting talking as we were rarely able to as men

About our mother probably more frankly than ever before

But he disallowed what I told him had really happened to us

He shouted me down, to stop telling him, to not say what I was saying, as though I were telling him in Arabic    

He was four when it all happened and he had buried it

At seven I would resolutely not forget

Only the two of us

As it always was after our family was gone

We talked so much about so many things

Brothers as only brothers can be 

With each other’s trust

And understanding

He always tried, he didn’t fade, he always tried

To play ball when he hated it, to be one of the group when I took him along with me

He liked model trains, wanted badly to own a monkey, had a drum major’s baton and practiced twirling 

He had a three-speed Raleigh when the rest of us had balloon-tire cruisers 

I cannot remember that he had a favorite color

Maybe blue, maybe only gray  

To avoid school at five and six he would lie in bed and plead a stomachache

So often he did not fit in

He was always responsible about important things and when he took sides he was on the right one

Quite often quixotic but remarkably convincing

He was polite, but witheringly caustic with the occasion  

He was the brother who older people liked

Once we drove together to Jalisco and he flew back to New York from Guadalajara

He would come from Paris to Switzerland to visit and we would go into the Alsace to hike, or to the Alps, or northern Italy 

And once he came all the way up to my Forest Service ranger station in the San Gabriels

Always a good brother in that way

And he was solicitous to a forlorn aunt whom I had almost nothing to do with

He had close friends when he was younger but dropped them soon after college

He was a beautiful man, although he was stubborn, and arrogant in the realms of his ignorance

Social with the need

Often magnetically attractive in social situations 

Constantly glib

Curious about what he didn’t know


And very funny at times

A tall, skinny, handsome, Princeton, multi-lingual, sometimes brilliant, lonely man     

Dead for a long time now 

Wiped away with other smudges and traces like the light grease from yesterday’s croissants

Traces, hair, dust, smegma, flakes of skin, with no reconciliation at all between fresh leavings and our deaths

He was alone for his forty-ninth birthday, a day like his other last days

He died four weeks later as if he was making a plane

And refused to share his doom with anyone

On his bed staring up at a ceiling fan silently reeling his thread of remaining time

Staring at the maples outside, listening to the familiar sounds of the house in which he had spent most of the nights of his life

Alone, thinking, he must have been deep in death fear

When he realized death was immediate he must have known terror

It must have been the agony of shame for him, with his self-justifying rationalizations and careful arrangement of lies

Maybe he observed to himself in that wry and charming way of his that at least he would not have to turn fifty

Like nothing he had ever faced, something ultimate very unlike his complicated hygienic-dietary induced solipsistic cautionary phobias

But he wouldn’t talk and he sent anyone away who wished to help or comfort him

His death was medieval in its inevitability, an early AIDS death that did not allow hope of his life being at all prolonged

Knowing that every local pathogen could opportune to invade his immune-blown cells to kill him, doom him to stop living, drive him through thick walls of pain into oblivion

Horrible for him even beyond what he had imagined what it was going to be like to die that way

As he lay there, his handsome, gawky, obdurate, slimness bent fetal, face to the wall


And no painkillers, no doctors, no friends

He lost sixty pounds in four months



Finally allowed us to take him, on his back, to the hospital the day after a final long-dusk June weekend at home

The second day he went into a coma there on the ICU machines and cotton-head drugs

Almost at the end, while still in his bed at home, he spoke of complex and wonderful things, said convincingly that he wanted to describe them, did not

A black locust fell upslope from his house in a wind the night of the day he died

Black locust, Robinia pseudoacadia, extremely thick bark, dark brown, furrowed deeply, wood hard, strong and stiff, the heartwood brown, green or yellowish green

In a couple of years, some of its bole and parts of its upper trunk were wet-rot brown, bark nearly gone, less tree all the time each season, lower and lower, rotting into the duff

And then in less than a short decade it was gone completely

Just as in the way that he lived became meaningless after his dying because he had lived entirely within himself

The smudges wiped away 

His way of hiding behind a high wall of a self-mocking urbanity, his acerbic sense of humor, his insistence on privacy so intense as to freeze-dry any violation of it with his arrogant scorn

A quixotic libertarian


Gushingly compassionate

Frequently dismissive


The puzzle is his death’s legacy, a need to map out how he would wish to be remembered

As the compassionate, curious person he had once been, or the coolly lonely, embittered, sneering, sarcastic man who died

And with that once established, it should be determined if such is fair to him, what he was, and if it is anything like what he imagined himself to be

He would have been one with Tchaikovsky, who in 1880, wrote, “The notion that one day people will try to probe into the private world of my thoughts and feelings, into everything that I have so carefully hidden throughout my life… is very sad and unpleasant.”

With that, he wanted to be alone

About the author
D. E. Steward’s five volumes of Chroma were out in 2018 from Archae Editions in Brooklyn. Chroma is a month-to-month calendar book, the months are continuing.

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