This Is What You’ve Been Waiting For: Marie Howe’s Poem About Her Brother Dying of AIDS

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 6:27 am

This Is What You’ve Been Waiting For: Marie Howe’s Poem About Her Brother Dying of AIDS

“It seems like the minute he was born, we were intimate friends.”

The poet Marie Howe’s brother, Johnny, was 11 years younger than she, but, as Ms. Howe says, he was her spiritual teacher. They had an unbreakable kinship that helped them both weather the upheavals of addiction and the tumult of AIDS. He died at the age of 28.
During the last six weeks of his life, they spent a lot of time together during his cycles of waking and sleeping. They would tell each other stories, she says, that would reveal these sage revelations of wisdom about the most ordinary things — a shade flopping against a window or a sandwich. During her conversation with Krista, she recites a poem from her collection The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. The exchange contained within “The Gate” has a zen-like quality, about waiting and being present in the moment. It’s heartbreaking and heartening, quiet and simple in its form and song:

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

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is the co-founder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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