Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Sister's Notebook

One year, one month, twenty-four days
(depending on whether you went before or after
midnight) I sit in this spot with your
book in my hand waiting for time to start up
again, waiting for the planet to creak and
shudder and start down its tracks like before.

But nothing will ever be the same without
the yip of your laugh, the tangle of your hair,
that pinched little squint of your smile.
Sister, could you whisper what would bring you back?
I’ll thumb through the scraps, touching what you’ve touched,
tracing with my fingernail the dents your pencil made.

A recipe for dumplings,
the name of the mayor of Ficklin,
three apartments under $300 a month.
The address of the boy who cleans the glass,
how to reach Emergency when the switchboard
at the funeral home is dead for the night,
how to make a birdhouse from a bottle,
a pinwheel from a placemat, a purse from a sweater
unraveled and re-rolled. Sister, could you whisper
what I need to bring you back?

I realize that you would have enjoyed
one of those memorials in the paper so that
everyone in town says, Ahh, poor sister, has it been a year?
But I forgot. I did get the stone bench with the wording
you wrote, plus a little bit more from me, and all the kids’
names lined up in order of their birth with hearts between.
Half the family thinks the stone should be turned
to face the east, but who can tell what’s backward?
I am here without you, and that makes nothing right.

Remember the letters of questions we’d write?
Why did you go alone in the middle of the dark?
Who came for you? Why couldn’t you wait for me
to slide my arm around you? Who will I tell
what’s in that trunk we buried in the mud of our girlhood?
Who will stand by me when my time comes? Why
can’t I come there, at least to visit? Will you visit me
in my dreams from now until my dying sigh?
Where did you get that strength at the end?
How did you know what to say to me?
Sister, can you whisper what I need to know?

I stick my nose into the middle of your book,
bookworm monkeytoes hooknose wooden eye,
not for the words this time but because you're in there:
your smoky lavender scent in the leaves,
your skin cells powdery on the page.
Now I know why I took it
and why I kept it
and why I opened it today.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Three Steps of a Kiss

A kiss begins with the eyes.
If yours meet across the dishware, if you
fall brain body breath into each other,
if you drink the eyes the lips the eyes
the lips, regardless of the sound
you never hear, continue to
step two: the hands.

The skin is electric, grows hot with
thought. If I press my palms against your
ribs to cool your blood, to read your
smoky outline, I will know your heart.

Step three: lean into me, let me feel
the static between our lips before we touch.
If you notice me rummaging under your ribs,
a pickpocket, an investigator, be quiet.
I have to know. Because a kiss
ends with the soul.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Our Hedges Were Hibiscus

We played out all year topless,
boys and girls in a wild swirl of yellow sun.
Escaped parakeets flickered in the trees,
trees that fluttered prayer-flag fronds
and offered fruits and nuts and bees.
We killed fire ants and ran beneath the moon,
raised the yard dust with our feet as
Blanche’s mother taught us hula,
rolling her feet and her wrists and her waist,
whispering stories gory and historic, so real
I could repeat them to you now.
If anyone found a centipede, we’d call out
until the boy with the big shoe brought his stick.
He was our killing expert. It seemed to do him good.
Red hibiscus hedges; every day I drank one perfect
drop of nectar from the stamen of a bloom and
put the bloom behind my ear. Mama said just one.
Brian Kahiki could run right up a coconut tree,
throwing brown monkey calls down at our heads, and
Toshiko’s baby’s hair stood straight up on the crown;
when she put the baby down he howled
until other mothers touched their chests,
turned toward each other with their eyebrows up.
On days they moved the Dumpsters, we jostled
down the path between the yards and squatted
on the asphalt to hear the maggots scream.


Art by Reena Walking. (See more here.)
Stop by the pub at and follow Mr.Linky to other good poems and living, breathing poets. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

There's More to the Story

When he was out to sea, my dad
sent coins to me from every port,
stuck at the bottom of his thin blue letters,
the whirls of his fingertips preserved
in the tape. I’d smell the paper hard
to find his bristly scent.

When he was young, he stole bread
and cigarettes, watermelon and eggs.
He picked up coal along the railroad tracks
and wore whatever someone gave him
to cover his scabs. He found an orange
one Christmas and ate it like an apple,
skin and all. It was the most magical food
he had ever held on his tongue.

When he was sick, my dad was
crazy as a loon, one screw loose,
taking direction from TV and
writing nonsense on the bills.
There is a spook talking nonstop
in my head, he’d say. We wouldn’t
let on to the neighbors, even when he
burned a mattress in the yard
for reasons we could not explain.


The USS Ruddy, my dad's ship, a fleet minesweeper.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What I Know about Your Heart

Anatomically, a heart is small,
the size of a fist, and not really a heart.
A doctor will tell you: there is no way
a heart can make a spark of light,
but I know better. I can read by yours.
Your heart is a planet lit from within;
smoldered by your solids, calmed
by your waves. Sometimes the clarity
pierces me: so that I say: and I am a small creature
on an unexplored planet in a solar system
that is constructed of only you.
You always know the way back.
Your heart is a steed, a ride as smooth
as love is thorny, hooves striking sparks,
nostrils breathing fire, a mount that rises as I rise.


José de Páez, c. 1770. Sacred Heart of Jesus with Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Louis Gonzaga.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Before she died, my sister told me

to write about our life.

She asked me to slit open my chest and pin the flaps back against my collarbones, cut through my sternum and spread my ribs into a chapel. She said to step into that space and go poking around in my swollen [raw] heart, taking out pieces, holding them up in two fingers under the light, examining, admitting, a [thing] that she would never do in her airy fairy skinny-butted earthmother life. And she asked me to perform this unspeakable duty in her absence. As her stand-in. After she died.

She said, You know, anything can be funny. You're good at taking the bitter stuff and wrapping it in something crispy and sweet. Something you can chew slowly, like Good & Plenty.

That's pretty good, I told her.

Write it down, she said. It's not like I'm going to remember it.

My memories of myself begin on the day my sister came into our house. She is with me still like a Siamese twin I carry over my heart. In the blood that thuds in my eardrums, I can hear her voice.

I'll embroider, I told her. You know how I am.

I know. And one more thing, she said. Don't go posting any sappy updates on Facebook like that girl down the street does. Just start by saying: Most people don't know that brain cancer can be funny...

I wasn’t going to chew myself up like that. I told her flat out: I can't.

But of course I can.


Do you have a sister? I wouldn't want to go through life without a good one.