Posted by: Dan | October 10, 2018

On Battling Giants: A Poem for my Youngest Brother on the Occasion of his Birthday

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We ride bicycles until the trails end and follow creeks to culverts, under roads, far away, vast domains.  At night, you are a king in a castle and I am a knight in a tower.  We battle giants and talk with dragons.  In the winter, we go to school along a road with no sidewalks.  The slush and ice from the plows are often as deep as our knees.  I walk on the side closest to the cars because you are my little brother and it is part of me to try and keep you safe.

And I try but you have always been courageous.  Hitting ramps on rollerblades, crashing and scraping and bleeding and going back again, over and over again, until you had learned how to fly and how to land.  Standing up to the bully who was mocking the knock-kneed kid in class who never bothered anyone.  Doing the flips I was always too scared to attempt on a trampoline.  And now, trying to wring some good out of massive institutions, convinced that you can be a part of making the world a better place, convinced that things don’t have to be this way, convinced that they can be changed, convinced that you are changing them—you are still battling giants and you are doing so optimistically.

But still, in my heart, I want to keep you safe.

At the start of high school, it was you who first introduced me to the people who would become my friends.  In our room, after our parents had kicked me out, you put up pictures and items on my now empty bed, as an act of grieving, love, remembrance, and rebellion.  In all my years of talking to people about the ways in which lives are devastated by homelessness, you were one of the few who listened and took it all very seriously.  And when I forgot my keys and came home late from work and was terrified to ring the bell or knock because I didn’t want to wake my father and face his wrath, you were the one who opened the door after I threw gravel at our bedroom window.  You weren’t too happy about it, but you did it.

In your heart, you want to keep us all safe.

I know this, although your heart has often been a mystery to me.  A mystery and a wonder.  This man who speaks with quiet confidence was a king inside a castle, this professor being quoted by scholars and journalists was a boy using tap water to part his hair in the middle, this advocate calling for love and attention to the most vulnerable members of our community was sleeping beside me at our grandparents, making blanket forts, barricades of pillows, mountains and river valleys in the bed sheets.  We created lives, we created worlds, we created safe spaces and love—we created them out of nothing.

And you haven’t stopped.  Only now the blanket forts you build are other people who care, and programs, policies and community development projects for people experiencing poverty, people experiencing homelessness, and people experiencing domestic violence.  I’m proud of you, Giantslayer.  I love you.  You’ve got this.

(But if you ever get tired, if you ever feel doubt, if you ever feel you don’t, I’ll happily take the side of the road closest to the cars for a little while more.)

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