You know how when you get together with certain family members, you end up telling the same stories, laughing at things that aren’t funny? That’s what I’m trying to get at, though the poem isn’t really about babysitters; it’s about how you navigate childhood and don’t even try to make sense of the damage until it can be viewed from a safe distance. For much of our twenties, my sister and I shared an apartment in San Francisco, and we spent a lot of late nights rehashing the past, having grown up in one of those New England families with skeletons in every closet. Thousands of miles away from our brothers, from the whole family, we would sit around and drink wine and make each other laugh, as the stories got more and more outrageous—until we weren’t laughing. Above all, this poem is a tribute to my sister—our highs and lows, and the roads we traveled to get here.
One of us will say, Remember Mabel? bring up
how you used to steal her wig off the nightstand,
run down the hall, glorious in Motown Tresses
while she hollered in her towel, hair short and patchy,
and we list each one—the one who sat on her canary,
the one who saw Jesus wave from the crucifix at St. Ignatius,
the one who cursed in Gaelic at the Solid Gold dancers,
the one who got fired over the topless photos.
As girls, we soaked up every bit of their private lives,
borrowed their hot curlers and strawberry-scented lip gloss,
tried on their Dr. Scholl’s sandals and lacy bras,
listened to them whisper to their boyfriends on the phone.
Eventually, one of us will bring up the one we snuck off
to have an abortion—hold our breath until one of says,
Remember the one Aaron slept with
that summer on Martha’s Vineyard?
And we’re not laughing—we’re thinking about Aaron,
blue eyes, floppy hair, mischievous grin.
Aaron, who showed us dirty magazines,
taught us how to smoke cigarettes,
steal bikes and ride them off the dock.
Aaron, who stole money to buy drugs,
who raped a boy we knew and loved—high
on crystal meth—and died in a motorcycle crash.
Then one of us will have to turn down the stove,
and one of us will open another bottle,
as night begins its descent into another world,
one buried long ago, left for dead.
Diana Donovan is a marketing consultant based in Mill Valley, California. A graduate of Brown University, her work has been published by Cloudbank, Pacific Review, Levee, Plainsongs, Prospectus, and Pithead Chapel (nominated for Best of the Net).