My father’s brother.
Already on his own when my father was born.
More like an older cousin, maybe, quiet,
always away, in the woods, on the bayou.
He looked like my father, only with glasses, and sadder.
That’s all I remember. And his daughter, Gail,
much older than I. She was always smiling, playing records,
asking the same question over and over.
A man at Brother’s funeral said he was a rare friend,
one who paddled the pirogue so you could fish.
Brother’s wife had a hard time with Gail, forty-one.
Days afterward, she broke things.
Went through each room, breaking anything she could find,
so her daddy would come back and fix them,
like he always did.
from her book Return to Bayou Lacombe
Cinnamon Press, 2008
Used with permission of the poet
by Nancy Jaynes
Before reading the poem, I’d ask students to think about the associations with the word “brother.” Depending on responses, I’d also throw out there words and phrases such as “brotherhood,” “My brother’s keeper,” “Band of Brothers,” “blood brothers,” “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” etc.
I’d then read the poem aloud.
I’d ask the students to identify the brother for whom the poem is named. (Depending on grade level/abilty group, I’d ask for supporting evidence from the poem.)
I’d ask, “Why do you think the poem is divided into two stanzas? Is there anything different about its two parts?” After allowing for discussion, I’d point out the last line of stanza one, “asking the same question over and over.” I’d ask, “What does this line suggest about the cousin?” And then, after students respond, I’d also ask, “Where does the cousin come up again in this poem?” And taking it further, “How does she feel at this point?” And “When Jan Villarrubia suggests that by breaking things, the cousin might be hoping for her father’s return, what does that say about the cousin? Is she still asking ‘…the same question over and over?’”
I’d ask students what we know about “Brother” as a character. “How could we describe him? Is there something that stands out as unusual, or is he simply special in a “normal” sort of way?” I’d introduce the term “everyman” at this point, and explain what an “everyman figure” is I’d ask students to relate this back to our discussion of the associations with the word “brother.” How would you identify the theme of this poem? I’d ask students to write an explanation based upon these in-class discussions.