M. Stone is a bookworm, birdwatcher, and stargazer who writes poetry while living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in San Pedro River Review, SOFTBLOW, Calamus Journal, and numerous other print and online journals. She can be reached at writermstone.wordpress.com.
In This Blood, a New Debt
Sister, we come from an unbroken line
of siblings who had knives at the ready,
who betrayed family and stole from one another
what was dearest—spouses, money, a place at the table.
We were set to continue on that way,
nursing a hatred surpassing rivalry. We threatened
and threw fists and swore, made our father wish
for the simplicity of raising boys. After you left home,
I despised you over a span of two hundred miles.
We still can’t speak of childhood
without poking fingers in festering wounds,
but approaching middle age erodes our ill will;
we are no longer reluctant to embrace.
A grace between us borders forgiveness,
and while I would gladly give my life for you, I fear
letting you draw close. All these years I imagined
growing old alone; when my tolerance for existence
wore too thin, no obligations would hold me here.
Yet ours is a bond of blood and kin, of faulty memories--
yours sometimes supplanting mine—and I find
I don’t want to add you to the short list of loved ones
who will receive a letter from me
in a few decades—more or less—a one-sided goodbye
arriving by mail several days too late.
My friend invites me to her family reunion,
for I am the overly available neighborhood kid
who will provide company during the drive.
My own family doesn’t have reunions;
Dad’s kin has scattered to Midwestern states
I recognize only on a map, and Mom’s relatives
The reunion takes place in a meetinghouse
beside train tracks zippering the earth’s mouth.
I marvel at all the food, fix myself a plate and sit
near the door, aware I am eating a meal
my parents didn’t buy.
While my friend runs around with her cousins
and the adults carry on until their laughter merges
into a roar of television static,
I stare at a clock on the wall. I have three pennies
in my pocket to line up on the sunburned tracks
if the train whistle sounds.
You were my older sister’s friend,
always around that summer--
playing Monopoly with us
while I was quarantined with chickenpox,
and tagging along for trips to the lake.
I used loose change to buy a wooden heart
at the craft store, and with a Sharpie,
I wrote your name on it in my neatest hand.
You smiled and thanked me, deposited the gift
inside your pocket and said no more.
Later that fall I sat in my bedroom
puzzling over pre-algebra when you called,
devastated about a breakup. My sister was out,
so you settled for me. I stayed quiet,
afraid to say the wrong thing. Instead I listened
to you rage and swallow sobs as I etched
our initials into the margins of my math notes.
Before you faded from our lives, off to college
and then off to Texas, I was a kid who had no clue
that the distance between twelve years and seventeen
might as well be an eon, but you did.
Thank god you did.