My beginning was long and hot and slow,
the hottest day of that year, my mother
always reminded me, and twenty-four hours
of labor, twenty-four. I still feel apologetic.
I gave you a transfusion of my own blood,
my father would say. (We both have A+ like
a good mark, I imagined.) The beginning
for my sister was also in the same hot season;
the doctor pronounced our family complete.
Fear, she taught; don’t sled ride you’ll get into
an accident like Daddy did as a boy; don’t climb
trees, you’ll fall; but swimming was okay; jacks,
jump rope were okay. She shared her skilled love
of reading, embroidery, manners. Try it, he
encouraged: bowling, badminton, croquet, pool,
his version of the fox trot, all done with an elegant
rhythm that leaps out of the sepia photos of him
on the links, on the courts, from his “life before us.”
She looks sad in her school girl photo, alone with her
intelligence, wit, that bloomed only in the company
of relatives. In the rare photos she allowed, Mommy
looks happy if not in life. Daddy was happy anytime
anyone stopped to hear his jokes told with perfect
timing until the morphine quieted him. Sometimes
in a restaurant, I’ll hear myself tell his, “I’ll wait right
here,” to the departing waitress as she sets out towards
the kitchen. Or, repeat his philosophical answer to
everything, “That’s why Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors!’
I wear her thimble to change a hem; croon her
kartofelkopf - potato head - to my nieces, always compose
thank you notes by hand. Today. The legacies of
parents, written to the edges with imprints of memories.
Sorting them out? That’s the rest of my story.