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Gibson Fay-LeBlanc

Give Up Don’t Give Up

was my brother’s advice

three years after his doctor

said six weeks My brother

years earlier ahead of me

on a path above the tree line

with lightning rolling in

so we ran all the way back

laughing in flashing light

Today snow somehow gathers

in the crook of a pear tree

despite another shooting

into a crowd of bodies

despite a missile that turned

small apartments into ash

despite the names you whisper

to yourself most days

What my brother means

is that you have to lay

your whole teetering pile down

these shorter and shorter winters

the monstrous and unfair

thing that could happen to any

one a disappeared kid

four hundred years of history

like a giant stone

either you know is pushing

you down a mountain and try

to slow the weight or you

slide down pretending it’s not

and all the people (how many)

who dim their lights inside

caves they built and then

lose track of the path out

Lay it all down my brother

said so I say You can’t

carry it all all the time

Yes the muscle in your chest

hurts Of course you are

broken Give all of it up

so you can feel the two

bags of air fill again

An hour will come an hour

when they do not My brother

was eight years past his last

when his organs began to fail

That crook that light his hand

in mine I feel even now

The Stone

I find a stone a little smaller

than half a human heart inside

my chest again this morning.

I forget about it, but in the early

dark when I am quiet and sipping

it is still there. It rises and falls

with each breath—my right

lung, my sternum and ribs

make space for it, as there is

almost always room for one more

on a crowded bus. I first felt it

sometime after two people I called

mine died within two months.

It is oblong and smooth

along the edges. Twenty months now

with this inside my body.

I whisper, Is there something

you’d like to know? And: what

are you protecting me from?

It gives no answer I can hear.

Second Person

You wake on a cold fall

morning with two holes

to the right of your heart

that you feel the edges of

when the wind is really

blowing, or when you

hustle around town, a time

when you might call and say

into the ether—voicemail—

just thinking about you

but someone else answers

that number now and so

you leave a message here.

You think they’ll visit

in a dream and explain

but wake dreamless

thinking you’re his little

brother, her youngest son—

my baby, she called you

into your forties.

Last night you sat around

a tall fire with friends—

the only safe way

to see these men right now—

and toasted a late guitarist

who could make the whole

burning world with his

fingers and send it driving

up over a thousand bodies.

The weight is real on your

chest, shoulders, temples, as is

early light through the honey

locust’s spikes almost

as long as your pinkie.

You know we are an

awful species—we kill

each other or ourselves

regularly, we invent

new ways to infect the earth

with our trash and love letters—

I, I, I. I can’t right now,

but maybe you can see

the nearly infinite ways

we can be beautiful, like

a small black disc passed

along the ice to a place

where you didn’t know

you’d be but then you

were. Your brother’s chuckle

after that pass, your

mother’s earnest cheering.

Your mother handed you

her ever-present gold-rimmed

sunglasses—this was decades

ago—said, Look,

so now on this morning

this strange light

turned up by cheap lenses

outlines your beloved

your two sons your two

bearded rescue dogs and

you sit with a tree’s thicket

of spikes and you sit

with the two people not here

and then stand and make

sure to lay your hand

on each of the bodies

that are still here

before you leave.


Gibson Fay-LeBlanc's first collection of poems, Death of a Ventriloquist, won the Vassar Miller Prize and was featured by Poets & Writers, and his second, Deke Dangle Dive, was published by CavanKerry Press in 2021. His poems have appeared in magazines including the New Republic, Tin House, Narrative Magazine, Poetry Northwest, and Orion. He has helped lead community arts organizations including The Telling Room, SPACE Gallery, and Hewnoaks and currently serves as executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance.


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