i. fifteen months

my brother, head too wide for thin hips,
had been extracted with a scalpel. the new nurse
pressed the afterbirth out of her belly and
she screamed. i screamed longer.

ii. eight years

i smoothed my brother's hair while i held him
alone on grandmother's stained couch and told him
mom wasn't dead, just blown up
like a red balloon, tongue swollen into silence.
i thought i was lying.

iii. sixteen years

when she couldn't carry her own spine,
i held her purse and followed her rented scooter
through the grocery store. she
backed beeping into the fresh pie display
and, jointly splashed with raspberries,
we exploded in laughter.

iv. twenty-one years

bracing one foot against the porcelain,
i fished my mother out of the bathtub
when she had taken one pill too many and

her blood had split apart. she
was coated in spilled shampoo
but i tucked her into bed
and talked to her about the attractive weatherman
on channel thirteen news, until she asked
to be helped outside for a cigarette.

Losing Teeth

In the naked bulb light, your shielding shoulder doesn't hide
your reflection's study of its teeth,
apprehensive, the close-clinging film
a death sentence and now

whimsically, your flowered hair like seaweed
over my upturned face, brushing the blanket
copper-stained & electric, & your voice
oakly shadowed and plastic
like you practice

& my mouth is too stuffed to say
what I want, so instead I offer a smile
and the fishing hook in my lip and a wish
that you hadn't asked me to be your doll,
fluffed by petticoats and beestung lips, to be kept
in the living room, in the dentist's chair


with my veins churning into vials,
someone else's family is leaning over me
hiding me from the nurse's needle

--my vision balloons, filling empty space
with the sterile blue curtain cliff

and the grandmother is telling me that my hair looks like lake ice,
like blackberries, like her dead daughter's dishes

and the grandfather turns to me, dirge-tempo, (i have been told
that his cells are eating him but he
is doing alright)

and he stuffs my eye sockets with gauze