PARACHUTE

 

Perched like a barn owl on the fence
dividing our yard from the gush of headlights
on Meridian, I convinced my new step-sister
that slipping her arms through the loops
of a plastic grocery bag would allow her
to jump and float down to the sidewalk
like G.I. Joe Paratrooper.
She was five and still too young to understand
she’d lost her mother, old enough to know
the three small horses carved on a stone
in the graveyard stood for her and her sisters.
Her mom was the first dead woman I never knew
but learned to miss anyway, lighting candles for her
on Christmas and Mother’s Day, even though
a little sister was a godsend to me,
the youngest of my mother’s three daughters,
and I took her into my backyard
the way a king might welcome a new horse,
with grave approval. I convinced her to touch
with her index finger the red eye of a cigarette lighter
fused into the armrest of the station wagon.
I taught her cursive on the walls of the white hallway
between our bedroom and the single bathroom
lined with six of everything, six toothbrushes
and combs and frayed washcloths and towels.
I told her to climb up to me on the cedar plank fence
wobbling like a loose tooth and slick with moss
and I held my hand out for her, I steadied her shoulder
small as a chicken’s egg while she hooked the grocery bag
under her white armpits, her face a well of need
I could have filled with anything.