How to Watch Your Brother Die

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“How To Watch Your Brother Die” written by Micheal Lassell is an interesting poem, though it reads like a short story. It is written almost as a guide to several different things. The main character is a straight man seeing a different lifestyle, that he had shut out, for the first time. The first time really seeing what other people, though gay, still human beings, have to go through to live in our society. A society that he has helped make into what it is. He is also a man watching his brother die in a hospital across the country. A brother he has shut out of his life because he disapproved of his lifestyle. The issues that Lassell discusses in this poem are those that take place every day in our world. The pain of losing a brother that you have not spoke to, and the pain that a lover feels when his companion is dying are those of which many have not experienced, but some day they will happen to all of us. The brother did not seem to feel so bad when Lassell writes about the lover's last words to the brother before boarding the plane to go home. He says," Forgive yourself for not wanting to know him after he told you. He did” ( Lassell 649). When the brother heard this he now understood his brother and his life. He now knows that his brother wanted to forgive him and now he does not have as much pain in his heart for the way he had treated his brother. By making the narrator the straight brother, this poem gets that necessary distance. It makes him a stranger to these worlds of AIDS and homosexuality and the subject of the poem is really his journey to empathy with these worlds. He starts understanding of the humiliations they partake of, of the prejudices directed at them. This is all the more impactful for coming from even those close to him, like with his wife's squeamishness about hearing about the love between two men. And even from himself. Because in allowing himself to wonder, to question himself, he is acknowledging the unconscious prejudices he has operated under. The point though is not that he was prejudiced, but that he was willing to expose himself to new knowledge and learn from it. A mistake often made from those suffering from the effects of the prejudice, is to condemn people out of hand just for having the prejudice, when surely what matters is whether people act on their prejudices or whether they learn about them and fight them. Most people do not see the way homosexual people are treated, especially in the early 1990’s when this poem was written. The writer uses the guidebook approach to illustrate the ignorance of people that he has to deal with regarding the dying of his brother, and how he recommends dealing with it. It must have been hard to refrain from getting enraged with those people and laying into them. That is where the guidance of his brother’s lover came into play.

The brother’s lover helps him deal with all the ignorance that people show towards the disease that his brother is dying from. He calms him down and shows him that the attitude towards homosexuals they are seeing is common. AIDS in the early 1990’s was unknown and feared by the public. Homosexuality was also frowned upon by society. AIDS was thought of as a homosexual disease that in turn made the disease also frowned upon, like they deserved to be infected. The narrator's deep and hidden love for his gay brother presents a young and liberal shift in society where families embrace all of their children in an equally loving manner regardless of their sexual orientation. It is a hard thing to imagine, having to watch your brother die in a hospital bed. The narrator describes the feeling as helpless. Even harder to imagine, is the fact that you have missed out on the most recent, and last years of your brother’s life; Meeting all the people that thought of him as a friend or as family; seeing how upset they are about it, and imagine how hard it must be for the lover that spent so much time with him. The narrators own...
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