Conor Burke


These days, my brother finds he has little use for clothes.
Whenever I’m at home, after he has slept in till

noon or one o’clock, and waking with a need to piss
he passes through the living room wearing nothing

but a pair of loose briefs, it’s always his legs I notice first,
how they won’t straighten, how skinny they are,

how angular. And then the forward tilt of his torso
as it extends up from his hips; his spine & its long

silvery scar (where they went in to cut the tangled net of
nerves they knew his brain would never learn to read) curved

like the darkened inner edge of a thumbnail moon;
each of his arms raised as if he were being held

at gunpoint, but instead of opening his palms in surrender
he’s balled them into two tight fists & uses them

to keep an unsteady, rocking balance. He pauses
at the doorway, leans for a moment against the jamb.

He turns his head a little to the side & I know
I’ll never know exactly what it is that now passes

through his mind. Going in he leaves wide the bathroom door.
All that work he’d have to do to make himself a little more

presentable, all that effort to close awkwardly the door
he will only, just now, need to force back open again.



Though they did not believe he could, my brother
Pulled free the brakes and flew and was a bird.
His arms outspread, he was a sparrow held,
By the flutter of its wings, still, above
The ground. Of course, I did not see him fly,
For I had turned my back to climb the steps
That led into the bus’s dark design,
And by the time I’d found a seat, the steps
In front of him had led him down again
Face first into the concrete walk below.
The blood was everywhere, the wheelchair strapped
Onto his back had pinned him, mouth agape,
Small against the leaden earth. And though
I tried, I could not, cannot, make my way back.


Conor Burke holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland and is currently a Teaching Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in poetry at the University of North Texas. He has served as Managing Editor and is currently Production Editor at the American Literary Review. His work has been supported by scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences, and has found a home in Bellevue Literary Review and Birmingham Poetry Review.