Issue 4:1 I Poetry I Lisa Parker
At the Edge of the Family, I Favor Her
for Lindsay Paige
Because she is always covering something,
her body with tattoos and piercings, her mouth
when she laughs, her ears when she thinks no one
is watching and she aches for silence outside
this noisy family.
Because I have seen her sway, eyes closed,
in the back lawn to Grandma’s radio leaking country classics
out the kitchen window, propped open to air the heat,
because she would deny dancing to that music,
adamantly, deny dancing at all, moving her body in a fashion
so predictable to music so hick, so us.
Because she sits close to me at these family functions,
her long fingers rubbing nervously against each other,
stilling when I lace them between my own.
Because she is seventeen and it has somehow come to her
that she is a lesser version of this swarm
of well-meaning, judging people.
I hold her close to me when she allows it,
trace the butterfly inked into the back of her neck,
tell her she is lovely, unique, tell her
I have seen her dance, barefoot in the summer grass,
that the sway of her hips, her arms above her head
are so graceful, she is fine and white as the egrets
we watched together at the pond’s edge
when she was small enough for my lap. I tell her
she is such a sight to behold
I cannot hear the music.
Picture of Old Mountain Woman with Frail-Looking Boy
She swore by the prickly-ash trees
for their easy cure of tooth ache,
showed him the soft, translucent dots
on leaves she ran across the back of his hand,
as if touching them would commit them
to his memory, would guarantee the passing
from her generation to his.
The explosions were like shotgun fire,
wrecking the silence of dire winter
and he pressed himself to her side, scratch
of wool that she held him against, though one hand
pressed flat to his back, pushed him forward
toward the destruction, the other hand,
waxy smooth fingers tracing the veins in his palm
as she told him how when sap rose in maples
and poplars, it sometimes froze, exploding
the tree, imbedding splinters in oaks nearby.
Her mind is old now, one tree blending
into the next and he takes his place
at her side, reminds her which leaves or bark
bring down fever, which ones a cough.
But those days will always be
about his easy flinching
and the way she pushed him with sure hands
over ground covered in pieces of wood, things
brought down from the inside.
He has rolled away from me
in sleep, though the heat still moves
between our bodies. His skin
will keep this flush for hours.
I have watched it before, this slow
fade of color, like the last bit of anger
giving back the tempered flesh.
My forefinger against his wide,
Slavic cheek, eyes moving beneath lids,
his mouth drops open slightly, closes
again. I want to put my hand there,
his mouth, keep it from rolling angry
words into the next tirade when this flush
has gone and we are again only
two people at odds over every thing
but this heat between us.
A red welt beneath his ear,
where, at the curve of neck,
I have marked him, and I cannot
recall how much of that was passion,
how much anger. I touch my lips
to that spot, feel the blood beneath raised skin,
the heat of it. His breath catches.
Grandma called it sweet slumber, that juice
she squeezed from stem to drop onto sugar cubes,
slip into our mouths to quell a hard cough.
Reddish-orange fluid leaked
from broken stems that looked for all the world
like bleeding, thin fingers;
crooked, bent, pointing.
As a child, I took the dare of older cousins,
broke the root, tore stem from scalloped leaves,
white, star-like blossoms, touched
seeping red to the tip of my tongue.
There are things in the forest
that will kill you with ease,
give you only the slightest, tart
warning of toxin and I was sure,
in that moment when my tongue pulled back
and I spit, hunkered close to ground,
that this root was the end of me.
Wrong season, too close to the last frost,
maybe. You could eat a plant ten different ways
without harm, but eat it once
in early season, once
with the wrong time budding
and it might take your breath from you,
your sight, the feeling in your hands and feet.
I rolled against crunching leaves on the slope
of mountain, spitting wildly, vaguely aware
that Grandma had come to the commotion,
taken the root from the boys,
When she lifted me to her shoulder
and said, They’s a reason I cut it with sugar,
I relaxed into the ease of her voice, the sway
as she shifted her weight one leg to the other.
He turns his head toward me now,
eyes opening. I want to remember them
like this – brown as chicory and soft
with sleep, without question.
I take my fill quickly, memorize
flecks of gold and green in dark brown,
roll away from him, close my eyes,
and think of that day on the mountain -
Grandma balancing me on the point of her hip,
lifting my face to whisper,
Never take nothing to your mouth you ain’t tamed yet.