We take socks, handfuls of socks
sifting through his half empty drawers
for pairs without holes in the soles.
He hasn’t got enough, house-warming gifts,
strewn across the boot as we drive east to Leeds.
I’m surprised he hasn’t forgotten more
as he opens the door with a smile –
it’s the first time I’ve seen him in a while.
Nine months away, seven spent in Georgia
two taken to travel around North America.
He’s started shaving now, but isn’t good at it yet,
and his rough beard is slightly patchy in places.
He’s wearing odd socks, oddly enough,
the other half of the pair probably still in the trunk.
We carry them in, and tip them out.
They pile up in the centre of the room,
a mound of mismatched colours,
a monument to his forgetfulness,
Christmas presents from our grandmother,
who’d be proud of him now if she were still around.
He shows us around his house,
as if it were a castle, and he’s the king,
the only one there, ruling by divine right.
His maps drape down from the walls,
souvenirs from past holidays sprayed with Lynx.
Coasters from our holiday to Berlin,
are stapled above his bed-head, suspended
to remind him of the time he couldn’t drink,
and that he can now, Strongbox cans flattened
in the recycling bin outside his student house.
On the maps he’s circled the places he’s visited,
knowing that they’ll never be enough.
I trace the east coast of America, marker-less
marking where I’ve been and showing him.
Making him jealous but not minding.
He’s been collecting bonsai trees (has six),
and wants to make his home bohemian.
They sit like statues on dirty windowsills,
nestle under kitchen sinks like spiritual sponges,
I picture odd socks draped over them.
We play dominoes over Domino’s,
using his discount to fill the kitchen table,
which wobbles and is somewhat unstable.
Sat down across from each other we’re the same height,
he’s caught up, but I sense I’ve slowed down.
I don’t feel like the big brother anymore,
not in his house, not in his new home.
He’s evened the playing field and knows it,
always getting the double six and boasting,
calling my bluff at poker with confidence.
Adults instead of the children we used to be,
when we enjoyed holidays with our parents,
sharing bowls of foreign ice cream.
He can probably beat me at FIFA as well,
even though he knows nothing about football.
I used to pass down everything except football boots,
old clothes, the holed socks we left at home.
I taught him how to play properly,
and he taught me how to cook sloppily;
I used to have to buy him beer, five years ago.
Our grandmother used to get our names mixed up,
if she was here now, I doubt that she would.
We’re too different, and I can’t grow a beard.
We’re less like relatives, more like neighbours,
more like friends, and less like brothers.
Chichester, August 2016