It was the summer of mothers and daughters
chaste on their knees. Priests paddled from vestry
to altar, glint of chalices tipped in gloom
above the whispered names of the dead
in the church that made sisters of us all.
My mother wrapped a scarf over white hair
and thrust a candle on a spike of iron.
The vespers hour swallowed the flicker
just as it guttered into extinction,
and in the rim of my sight, I saw a shadow
in the vaulted apse and knew my sister
was there: the witch who built roof-top pyres
of her own fresh youth, so sappy they bruised
the sky with a rage no water could douse.
Since then I’ve believed in ghosts.
Poltergeists too. Above the piazza
a flare unnetted by midnight seared the dusk.
My mother and I ordered bitter-red drinks
and did not talk about how the walls
shrank back when she entered a room,
how cracks ran from the cobwebbed ceiling
down to the miller’s stone and cups flew
from shelves and smashed against the window,
nor how the jackdaws ledged high
in the chimney-brace of each other’s wings
feared her, knowing she’d pluck feathers
from their breasts to fletch the arrows that
shot them, we didn’t talk of jackdaws,
nor did I say that she was no graze,
no flush of the skin or match-stick burn,
she was a tongue of white-hot spite
that licked the blood off my hurt.
It was far too late to speak of these things.
Now winter has come to inspect
the wreckage of my mother’s house
and I have clearance ahead, ashes and bones
to wipe and bury. I hide behind curtains
shredded by sunlight. My love is leaving.
Leaving does not take long. He cannot say
what draws him to rocks that slide below city graves,
and I cannot say what stops my breath
in the unappeased church of my sister,
no sooner lit than dark, nor why I’ll never
sleep alone in the house of my birth,
why I’d rather walk the long road home
in wind and rain than risk that flame.