blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1





This is a story of memory and the lecher—memory,
in fact, like trick photography, canned peaches,
the magician’s coffin painted in pitch, but squirreled
with rooms, miscarriages, welts, and happy childhoods.

We come in to this world a Nebraska in winter.
Fact, like a beast on its back, the thing done,
pushes through limitless prairie, testing
its irrefutable self: mountains, sinkholes, fjords,
succulents, desert flame, aspen, palmetto—

voilà! we are topographical and exotic when
the weather barges in, a Methuselan system:
a barometric mood hangs over a life for forty years—
painkiller unloosed from pain, feeling unloosed
from fact—it circulates through the heart,

an opiate flash, and how-much-it-hurt
razes the cell walls of what actually happened.
Don’t forget our story of Nebraska in winter,
a beast on its back, the weather under our skin.


A hard bud like milkweed was pushing up
inside her, she didn’t ask for it, the bud
opened flap by flap, her girl-self,
an origami animal, unfolded into
something beautiful behind almond eyes,
something omnivorous, impatient to arrive.

She was the looker and the one with a temper.
Those years my sister hated our shit for family:
her fury a needle-prick of laser light,
our home the brittle leaf (already talented
prey, I could track father’s outrage and slip
away through cotton batting), I felt her bead

on my heart. My jaws tightened. The lash
began to stir. It happened to her.
Lecherous memory thrives—fed and watered
by shame so sweet to me then. Is there a word
for grinning and bearing it when
you’re happy through and through?

I let my sister stomach the whole thing.
A pilled orange sofa, a claustrophobic
den, the old smell of onions, my uncle
pulling on her hands. Are you sure?
I know, I remember, it happened. I told
her I’d take care of everything.

That night, opening the bathroom door
while I was still talking to it, our mother,
the Kabuki doll, taking care of everything.

III. Symbiosis

She cut herself, tried to jump from a third-story
window between classes, the milkweed cracked
long ago dispersing silk and golden scales.
She didn’t ask for it. The meantime
grew a missile, a second bud on the same stem,
no less wondrous in its undertaking: slam open
slam open slam slam slam: encyclopedias, china,
metronome, knives, they flew from her hands.
An unappeasable goddess, she feasted on havoc.
If she wouldn’t die she would be heeded;
her misery turned medusa murderous,
and our placid smiles hardened like concrete
as we rose higher on screaming pulleys and chains.
The fact is the memory never got out of our house.
The fact is my sister had always been an angry child.


Twenty years later, over the feeble uncle
she bends, his gray skin mottled blue, his neck
veins slack. We watch her brush his cheek
with hers, her children squirm in his lap.
It didn’t happen to us, this thing done,
but its weather curls around our spines.

This is a story of Nebraska in winter.

At Christmas dinner I told a friend about my only
opera: I was eighteen, my father took me
in my first evening gown, we sat in the balcony,
his shaving crème smelled like pineapple.
My mother put down her fork and said,
“That was me. Your father was already dead.”

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