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Cassidy Wood

Engl 218

Professor Tucker

6 February 2017

Inscape Poetry Analysis

The poem “Brother Keeper” by Emily Ho uses specific imagery to express the

relationship between siblings. The title connotes the passage from the Bible, which

carries the semantic baggage of betrayal and rivalry. The title is not a cliché, but an

allusion and it works because it introduces a sibling relationship and suggests that

these relationships have existed since the beginning of time. The feelings

accompanying sibling stewardship and love begin to flow before the first line of the

poem is read.

The poem begins with a specific image: the brother “[puts] a flashlight in his

mouth and lit up like E.T.” (2-3). The imagery is unique. The relation of the brother

lighting up like E.T. gives the sense that the brother is foreign, perhaps he is the only

brother of the home. The narrator continues by putting the “flashlight to my chest

and it threw my rib cage on the wall around my brother” (4-6). Here, the image of

the rib cage capturing her brother is seen clearly through the shadow. The narrator

becomes her brother’s keeper in a literal, and authoritative sense. The poem takes a

turn from playfulness to captivity.

The parallel of the actions of the brother and narrator shows their

similarities and inherent sibling-ness. But the author plays between the shadows

and the light that these characters create, evoking the relationship of these two
siblings. They are connected through their actions and contrasted through their


The poem continues to illustrate this idea, “he wears me like a hat like a

streetlight wears a night” (7-8). The brother is the streetlight, and the narrator the

nighttime. The idea that the siblings are contrasts of one another is further

developed. This line is powerful and thought-provoking.

The final stanza of the poem seems to carry purpose but that purpose is

incoherent, “My mother tells him wash the dishes put the cat out leave your sisters

alone” (11-14). It seems that the brother is a shadow of the narrator – although they

are contrasts, the little brother tries to follow his sibling. The everyday-ness of this

last stanza is apparent – all parents say these things to their children – but the

purpose it serves is ambiguous.

The compact language of this poem adds to the complexity in the expression

of this idea. The imagery is unique and full of connotations that add to the intention.

However, the intention seems unclear at times because the images focus on just

being unique over being entirely concrete. The connotation of the various words,

and especially the title are good because they allow the author to shape

preconceived feelings and use those emotions to form the new insight the author

intends. But because the story of this poem is vague, there is no image in the

reader’s mind that allows for the production of an idea. The reader is left grasping at

straws – beautifully worded straws – to discover an ambiguous meaning.

Brother Keeper
By Emily Ho

When my brother was one

He put a flashlight in his mouth
And lit up like E.T.

I put the flashlight to my chest

And it threw my rib cage on the wall
Around my brother

He wears me like a hat

Like a streetlight wears a night

Fingers up the glass trying to pass through

But he’s no flashlight

My mother tells him

Wash the dishes
Put the cat out
Leave your sisters alone

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