Last night, as part of my recent Robert De Niro fascination, I watched Raging Bull, an unrelenting film about the humiliating self-destruction of a boxer who has Othello-esque jealousy issues. I don’t necessarily recommend that you watch it for fun. It is a great piece of film-making, though. It was directed by Martin Scorcese, who is good at stripping attractive Italian-American actors of their dignity (cf. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator).
I’ve been ruminating since last night on the final scene of the movie, in which De Niro’s character, Jake LaMotta (a real person, BTW) is preparing himself for an event in which he plans to recite from a variety of authors including Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. (Don’t ask how that happened; it’s complicated.) While looking in a mirror at his ravaged face and rapidly aging body, he quotes at length, and with proper attribution, from the “I coulda been a contender” scene in On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando (who, along with De Niro, played Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather I and II, respectively–irrelevant movie nerd fact). In that scene, Brando’s character is essentially blaming his brother for the failure of his prize-fighting career. So when LaMotta quotes those lines, he is not only commenting on his own downfall as a fighter but also touching upon his fraught relationship with his own brother, who was his manager until they had an ugly falling-out.
Anyway, I didn’t plan to say that much by way of introduction to a poem I wrote this morning, but I always say more than I plan to say. The poem, which is called “Fraternitas” (brotherhood), includes allusions, some more overt than others, to not only the two above-mentioned sets of brothers but also some other pairs you might recognize.
I coulda been a contender
But I’ve been walking around my whole life with your hand grabbing my heel.
I could have been king
But you were born first
And Dad liked your noble deeds better.
You said, “Let us go out to the field,”
And you beat out my brains
And you left what was left over
A bad imitation of a man
A second son
Even if I came out of the womb first.
I blamed it on our parents
I blamed it on a woman
But it was you
It was you
You were the one who shot me in the back
And sucked out what nourished me.
But we’re brothers.
Of course I love you.