MICHAEL, My Brother
To commemorate my brother's work in SF during very bad times.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Michael, my good brother, was an improbable tiger. He took envelopes and stamps to his friends, his dying friends. Their deep, desperate, raspy breathing reached into the long dark staircases of old San Francisco houses. The stairs moaned under his heavy feet like the crying widows of Jerusalem. With his friends he watched and waited.

No one else would.

He lived the forbidden life in the mystical city. It was a forest of obliquity, of clammy fogs, of hidden loves and hurts. Away from his family, Michael found new brothers. He left religion behind, taking new sacraments in strange meetings, embraces, and whispered prayers.

He delivered the last rites to the gaunt faces of dying men, contacted their loved ones in distant cities, made rent payments and sold off cars.

No one else was there to do it.

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

Michael was formed from the same genes that formed me. Some chemical variant made him different from the rest of us. Michael shunned sports, shunned the dust, the hard-ball-in-the-nuts jokes, the spitting, cursing, growling fathers, the pounded oily leather, the grass stains, the hissing word "Shit!" as an ankle turned on second base. Michael instead loved story-telling, clothing, books, poetry, materials, dressing up. At ten, he told us an improbable story about being chased by a man and falling into a ditch, recovering and running again, and another about the loneliness of a young girl waiting for someone. (His fantasies started early). In high school they cut him from the basketball team for unexplained "medical reasons."

Then there were evenings in jails. No reasons, no charges. Just jail. No documents, no blotters. Just jail.

And now trips into the City, matchbooks and train tickets the only clues of his whereabouts.

Then he disappeared entirely.

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Michael saw pestilence in the City. Like a driven, spiteful landlord, it carried terminal notices to the apartments, rooms, hotels, lofts, cabinets, bathhouses and secret salons that were the City's catacombs. Dark greetings were delivered to draftsmen, airline pilots, accountants, teachers, shopkeepers, carpenters, film-makers, clothes designers, wine salesmen --- all Michael's friends. He sat through screaming fevers, deep-well eye-sockets, dissolving skin, hungry bones working their way into daylight, the clicking of tired lungs, and then the smoky, ghostly silence.

Michael made phone calls. Some families came on Michael's call, but most didn't. He then became the family. He also became the postman, the barber, the priest, the nurse.

Michael was the tiger that forestalled death, who roared in darkness, who clawed for space, who snarled at the sanctimonious hucksters of religion and tradition, who went so far beyond us.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

--Anthony Adrian Pino (2003)