Only Sister

First Place, Poetry, Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, 1994. Published in Coffeehouse, 1995 & the Savannah Literary Review, 1995.

I first heard my sister’s name[break]when we buried Michael,[break]my only grandson. Standing[break]by his baby stone I[break]learned I’d lost a sister,[break]only sister, long ago,[break]her history stillborn[break]whispers in a mirror:[break]_____Eleanor?[break]_____Elinore.

At the rainy gravesite[break]I overheard my ailing[break]father tell my daughter[break]he too had lost a child[break]at birth, a little girl[break]stillborn in ’36.[break]Yet he’d never told me,[break]not her sex, not her name:[break]_____Elinore,[break]_____Elinore.

The family Bible’s blank.[break]No grave, no tombstone, no[break]baby picture album.[break]My father’s forgotten[break]her birth date; my mother,[break]who would have remembered,[break]must have grieved in silence;[break]then I was only one:[break]_____Elinore,[break]_____Elinore.

Never mind, I’ll make you[break]a mudpie birthday cake.[break]When the candles blow out[break]we’ll play funeral, pick[break]lilies of the valley,[break]dress up our doll babies[break]crying in shoeboxes[break]buried in the back yard:[break]_____Elinore,[break]_____Elinore.

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