The Invention of Loss
Prologue with Blue Sky
Now when she falls, she falls up, on blue, unfolded wings.
The present. The body. A lady in a blue suit.
The body. The body. The body.
All the meantimes gathered to a point.
The sky-high pillars.
One bright blue morning.
One clear and beautiful, oh, September morning.
When I look down, I see my sisters hands.
Whats a sister?
The Invention of Loss
Then Midge beside me in white socks and mary janes.
Red wool dresses with white spiral squiggles. Matching. Scratching.
Me ten inches taller, even like this, on my knees. The hem pools.
Snow beyond the window on the new pine branches.
After we moved. After the divorce. After my father and Agatha.
Mother with the awkward camera, Christmas tree doing its level best.
So small when I hugged her, her shoulder under my armpit, I could rest my chin on
my mothers head, she smelled of hair washed day before yesterday.
Rubbed my back, made me laugh, starched my dresses, toweled me dry.
Covered my room in pastel polka dots, wallpaper like arms.
We were that close. I never forgave her.
Bit my nails, counted dots, pulled my lashes out.
Couldnt find the pattern, the repeat.
But, oh, the recurring childhood nightmare.
What childhood nightmare, asked Midge.
Dreamt I came home from school and it wasnt. Somebody lived there, in my polka dot bedroom.
Somebody who wasnt me, I told Midge. Somebody who was you.
Or, flinging myself in dark despair.
Except my mother had rearranged the living room.
Except the couch was the fractured coffee table.
Midge laughed. Tried to muffle. Asked was I hurt.
Didnt need, did I, a matching little sister.
In the playroom where Midge pushed her fat, flat fingers into my paint-by-number
painting left half-finished on the couch.
Above that couch a wallpaper world map, pin stuck into the smoke-choked coastline of
the least Great Lake we lived beside.
In the corner, on a pastel hill, a woman holding hands with two small children, pretty
breezes blowing the ribbons on their bonnets back.
Except the smaller chubby child utterly blacked out.
Watch her, my mother said, mink collar pulled up under the chin.
Watched her all right, right into the path of a big kids oncoming sled.
Time, too, frozen in fear and fascination.
So bundled up in her bright blue snowsuit she wasnt even hurt.
Just lucky, my mother said.
Im going to outlive my sister if it kills me.
Meantime, in the painting above the mantel, black lace, bobbed hair, satin ribbon
fastened with a diamond clip at the blue-white throat, shoulders sloping, blue-white
hands in my mothers blue-black lap.
Mouth slightly open, black eyes, cave-dwellings.
Unhappy, was she? Pregnant with my sister?
Just think of it, my mother said, as the portrait of a beautiful woman.
In my mothers eyes, the sad, abandoned places beside the railroad bed, buildings with
shattered whitewashed windows, caved-in naked tarpaper roofs, scraggly trees and
Old lumber yards, red paint faded rust, whatever was once being built there broken,
indecipherable, fallen to silence and dust.
Romantic, tragic martyr of herself.
How I knew my mother from the inside out, her blue perfume, her soft snore.
Before my sister invented time and space.
Before the birth of memory or the death of a single tree.
Then columns of ash rewind to steel.
Something like snow rises skyward off cars, fire trucks, streets, the empty ball field.
Towers suck smoke back into their flaming mouths.
Jagged facades reassemble themselves.
People climb onto crowded elevators. Elevators going down.
Then I remembered. I was only dreaming.
When I got there, my sister showed me my name next to hers:
M A R G A R E T E L E A N O R
Under a nothing but blue sky.
Meantime, was it just last year, after my hip replacement operation.
Margaret on the floor with pastel wash cloth, lather like love.
Careful, gentle the razor through the foam, vertical stripes.
Wrote me a letter: Thank you.
Epilogue Without End
Pelicans, one, two, three, four rise, cock wings, dive together down.
Blue waves like can-can crinolines.
Ocean hands the size of Gods.
Ive told God, Im leaving it to you, whether I come back as a pelican, white or brown.
Not that I believe in such things.
Sky that della Robbia blue, palm trees waving in the off-shore breeze.
Big hand on the eight, little hand just past the chiming nine, a.m.
This bright blue morning.
This clear and beautiful, oh, September morning.
I hold you in my open hands.
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