Little Sisters
This birthday I have reached the age where my mother bore the last of her dead daughters— one that was whisked away before its first clean cry could scour the naked room, the later two a blue that refused to brighten. "Baby Girl, Infant Daughter of ..." the little markers said and I listened from behind the stove in her last pregnancy, watched her body swell and sag, knew from the shape of those whispered words that something was amiss— she was weighted already with two small stones. Summer mornings I called them forth— the little sisters I had never seen— made them faces from the old ache in the air above the garden, hair like mine from the grassy space where root crops should have been. I learned of blood tests, transfusions, the factor called Rh, my little sisters dreaming their aquatic days on lethal ropes, my mother almost dead. Now at the kitchen table lighting candles on a cake, I am empty-handed, empty-wombed, no daughters to give her as she counts again my miraculous birth, fourth and forceps-born, her last survivor in that war of blood with family blood. I reach for her hand and hold it, but there are spaces here, tender lacunae we cannot fold away. Still somewhere the hand-stitched garments, the gingham quilts, the counting game. Still the soot-smudged corner where I crouched beneath the stovepipe and fingered like a rosary the small pebbles of their names. Sonia Gernes