My stepsister wears knee-highs
with worn out elastic; they clump around her ankles
exposing the white expanse of her hairless shins.
My stepsister, the kleptomaniac, pilfers,
stealing the ring a boy at school made for me,
and Barbie doll clothes from neighborhood kids.
My stepsister the kleptomaniac
in crumpled knee-highs
traipses after me until, exasperated by my protests, mother says,
“Let her play with you.”
My stepsister the kleptomaniac in crumpled knee-highs,
who tags along behind me, wants to be like me.
I don’t want to be like her.
My mother, her stepmother, takes the belt to her.
“Liar, Liar,” she rants as the belt smacks tender flesh.
The leather whooshes through the air, the only sound
other than mother’s hated accusations,
for my stepsister the kleptomaniac in crumpled knee-highs,
her exposed buttocks an angry red, is silent . . . is silent.
My stepsister the kleptomaniac
who traipses after me, whose bare buttocks
are surely hot to the touch, has multiple personalities.
She doesn’t know this; no one does
No one will figure it out for decades and, by then, her bare bottom healed,
the fallen knee socks long forgotten, that knowledge
will be too little too late.
My stepsister the kleptomaniac (who once was not a kleptomaniac,
nor a multiple, nor a toy for her father’s lusts) is missing.
The last I heard she lived toothless and unloved
under the Burnside Bridge.
(“You will cry!” my mother prophesies, lips pressed
white with rage. Whoosh! Whoosh! “I’ll beat you until
you cry,” mother threatens.)
Our home crouches, balancing on its haughty suburban haunches,
as unmoving as a stillborn child.
Dust motes do a gentle ballet through the air. In the kitchen I watch them dumbly,
and fiercely plunge my hands into hot soapy water.
From the garage comes the muffled shrill of mother’s threats
echoing off the silence that is my stepsister’s only answer.
Oh my stepsister!
Non bone of my bone, non flesh of my flesh!
Closer, nonetheless, than if we’d shared the same DNA:
no wonder you wouldn’t cry!
Flown so far from your self, like a lonely dove on a rooftop,
others took over for you the pain, the shame of being you.
What they did to you
in that house of incest,
the injustice of it
shoots flames of fire through my veins,
but my fingertips, when I touch them to my temples,
are cold as ice. They too have the burden of memories,
the remembrance of handling metal measuring cups
hanging them up with precision on the inside cupboard door
(a place for everything, and everything in its place),
while from the garage mother’s rage sputters
unsoftened by maternal instinct.
I am here, oh wretched one, inadvertent witness,
an accessory of sorts (for to whom did I protest on her behalf?),
guilty, perhaps, of involuntary manslaughter.
“She never cried,” my mother marvels decades later,
proudly recounting what to her was a mere “battle of wills.”
“Let me tell you,” she continues bragging, “I beat her into near unconsciousness
and she simply would not cry! One time, the paddle broke
and I had to use my bare hand. Do you know, my hand was swollen and bruised
for days afterwards!”
Repulsed, I close my mind to these mental images.
To her, I close my heart.
But my stepsister, the kleptomaniac—-oh, the pain
of not getting you back whole,
and loved this time
(for surely I would know better now,
put any number of rings on your fingers
just for the light they bring to your pain-dulled eyes!)
Oh, I dare not so much as whisper my rage
lest kingdoms fall, and mountains totter into the seas.
I have seen the bullies, masquerading as parents,
with tight, dried up little prune hearts, turd-like,
petrified in the museum of whited sepulchres,
neatly displayed archeology finds
labeled under “Things God Detests.”
(Oh mother, your decades worth of festering ego
and nights of faking orgasms
gave to your movements a brittleness
I dared not broach . . .
My value depreciated the more womanly became my hips,
the fuller my breasts
beneath the stingy bra
you so begrudged me.
But for the fact of me, mother,
you would have no reminder of unseemly indiscretions,
or your premeditated crime:
it’s only legal to murder your offspring
before they are born, mother!)
I write your name now
and it shames me;
the mere syllables flush my neck and face
for you are a sore reminder, decades later,
of a family’s sickness.
To this day, the mere mention of you
has the power to nearly choke mother’s
lady like throat.
the first shall be last
and the last shall be first
world without end, Amen.
(Forgive me for calling you a kleptomaniac.
It is only one small truth about you,
and I, oh I was not so righteous myself.)