[After the operation, my sister needs help]
After the operation, my sister needs help getting out of bed. My mother’s bare feet gum the slick floor, bracing. My sister leans into her arms. The dogs’ eyes are wide. The two eyes of my mother’s blonde dog, the one eye of my sister’s whose bad eye is a blank weeping slit. It sees the darkness in the hall no one else does. There is no good place for my mother to put her hands on my sister’s lumbering body. The sleep-shirt slips in her grasp. When my sister was a baby, her skinny legs were hinged like featherless wings, all bird bone spread across my mother’s chest. My mother wore a plaid shirt with buttons on the sleeve, and she held my sister with a kind of wonder, as delicate wildlife that might then be only brushing past her arms before flurrying again into the thick forest. Now my sister is the weary animal that returns after nearly forty years, limping from the brambles. Together they clutch and stumble toward the door like the awkward reunion of a four-legged creature meeting again its severed halves. The dogs scramble to their feet as if charged to action, or to get out of the way.
[My sister rests her scraped-out back]
My sister rests her scraped-out back on the bed in the pale green room. Snow falls on the field across the street. The giant flakes originate and cease within the long plot of glass which hangs on the wall and which is the totality and bounds of the world. There is no one for miles. My sister can see into the eaves of the porch painted blue to fool spiders from stringing their webs from the sky. The spine aches. My mother has slipped beyond the glass world and reaches toward the gate behind the farmhouse, a sack of grain at her hip. The goat flaps its bottom lip, approaches on thin ankles. My sister hates to ask for help. But my mother’s imperfect selfless bones are made of helping. In the core of my sister’s body, bone weeps upon hard bone. A brave dark speck creeps across the eaves like a satellite at dusk, always falling toward the earth but never colliding. My sister said not to put a hand on the gate. The bruise darkening across my mother’s fingers is a horseshoe, a ring of purple flowers. Why should she bother to ask? My mother doesn’t listen anyway.
[My mother swings the hammer]
My mother swings the hammer at the ice in the trough. The twin mules draw near. Beneath their hooves, the grasses snap in their glass sheaths. A cloud of breath drifts toward the trees at the edge of the pasture. My sister looks out from the kitchen, her thirty-eight years heavy on her spine. A restless pink scar stings beneath her gown. The cloud reaches a little bird in a tree, and for a slow moment the bird is a figurine glistening in a snow globe. My mother breaks what she has to so my sister’s mules can drink, so the mules can rattle the ice bones in the trough. And the house is a boat that tilts into the earth so my sister’s face swings away from the window, so my sister will lie down and rest. The mules converge upon the silver trough, hanging their heads. The little bird breaks from its perch, tosses the crystals from its wings and back to the air.
[My mother stirs the noodles on the stove]
My sister lies in the pale green room, pale as a hospital, pale as a nursery. She is not yet healed. She is unable to walk. It is just like it was almost forty years ago. My mother stirs the noodles on the stove. The yellow spoon makes its orbit. A ladybug passes across the wooden floor. The rattle of its wings at liftoff. It is a quiet afternoon. It is a good day. My sister is patient, waits. Out the window, my mother watches the lake shimmering like a silver coin at the end of the pasture. From the bed at the end of the hall, my sister can see my mother’s back. There was a time my mother needed only one hand to perch my sister at her hip, the other free to pour cream into the casserole, steam rising to her face, the breath from my sister’s small hot mouth velvety at her shoulder.
Cynthia Marie Hoffman is the author of Sightseer and Paper Doll Fetus, as well as the chapbook Her Human Costume. Hoffman is the recipient of a Diane Middlebrook Fellowship in Poetry at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Wisconsin Arts Board, and a Director’s Guest fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy. Her work has appeared in Fence, diode, The Journal, The Missouri Review Online, and elsewhere. Collections have appeared as an intro feature in Pleiades, a featured chapbook in Mid-American Review, and in the annual Introductions Reading Loop online at Blackbird. She has taught creative writing and composition at George Mason University, the University of Wisconsin, and Edgewood College. She works at an electrical engineering firm in Madison, WI, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
Image: jdurham, morguefile.com