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In a rough-and-tumble family of five boys, two brothers share intimacy through writing

Israel Joyner
Gabriel Spitzer
Israel Joyner



Israel Joyner grew up in a family of five boys, which he describes as basically like a herd of crazed cats.

“Imagine they zoom down the hallway clawing every single wall, with colored pencil, holes, whatever they can do. That was my house,” Israel says.


Israel is the youngest of this brood, a sophomore at West Seattle High. But not long ago, he found something — a notebook from his big brother Mars, written when Mars was in eighth grade. Mars is five years older than Israel. Reading it, and learning about his brother’s old insecurities, gave Israel a rare opportunity: to be the big brother, for a change.

What struck him, he says, was the obvious gap between the imaginative writing in the notebook and the often harsh way Mars talked about himself. Israel wrote a poem about the experience, which got published in a collection of student poetry.

Mars is in his third year at Washington State University. Israel says his brother’s reaction to the poem was, in typical fashion, muted.

“Mars doesn’t really show his emotions,” Israel says. “He might have (said something) and I might have blocked it out with my weird, selective hearing.”

Israel and his brothers tend not to open up to each other with words. But that doesn’t mean they’re not close. They’ve relied on each other through family turmoil — there have been several different configurations of parents and living situations. They’ve just connected, mainly, through experience and a lot of physical camaraderie.

When asked whether he wishes he and his brother could be more intimate about their emotions, Israel responded … nah.

“I think that would be super lame,” he said, with a half-grin. “Brothers can’t do that — not us tough bunch.”

Of course, Israel had just spilled his guts on the page, through his poetry.

“I find that one soft, small crack through writing,” he said.

He Called Himself Uncreative

By Israel X Joyner

He called himself uncreative, unsuccessful, and all together horrible

Everyday he struggled to wake up

Stuck sinking into the sand-bed he called reality

Not noticing how fast it consumed

Long nights of fixing mistakes and doing homework

For the classes he never showed up to

Fists pounding and breaking walls

Mind splitting headaches

Uneventful whispers for loss of time

Time he could have used to work

Consuming himself in his work as soon as he was able to step outside

Leaving his dreams in the closet of an house that burned down long ago

From chasing dreams to grabbing opportunities

But somewhere deep inside his broken heart

Full of broken doors and families torn apart

He screams for help

His beauty still fades into a solom kill or be killed face

But how

How can this be when his notebook shows signatures lining up pages on pages

As if waiting for the day he signs them off for the ones who adore him

How can this be when he wrote essays about skating and halls and showing who is right

Like some rebellious teen who wants to make a change

How can this be when re-writes movie scripts

Sticks up to the teachers

And fears

How can he be so empty when he fears to lose the ones close to him

Now on this day I swear on my life he can not tell me he is empty because

The voices that scream out from him are so alive

And so beautiful

And gives me a true definition of hope!

Not the hope you find in those dumb books

But the one that changes your life forever

I want him to look me in the eyes and say he can’t dream again

Because his hands tell stories of beautiful dreams

The doodles jumping out of the pages as if comic books

The stories about me, you and dad all together

Who you are is creative

And deep down one day those voices will break out of your heart

And when they do you will know it too

The word creative begins with a C

I want you to see what you can truly be not what the written eyes told you

The word Believe starts with a B

You were always being kind to everyone while tearing yourself down

When will you realize

You are loved

Unsuccessful begins with a U

You decide where your life falls

So take the wheel and head there

To the one you love

To the place you cherish

To the bliss you missed

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.