Mind maps of nostalgia: the smell of our father when bringing in wood; our mother’s crow’s feet and the sound of her shotgun in the valley below the mountain; Hannah, my sister, rolling her eyes as I am silly and laughing, driving through Louisiana with Michael Jackson on the radio. I look at the world and see grace and horror in the same moments and it makes me still, and without laughter, without anything but the coffee cans strung by yarn, asking of her in the next room: can you hear me? Are you there? Will it be okay?
When we were children, we played in the yard and beat sticks on trees like it was something to do. So many hours, the grass green and spotty, too dry. Our barefeet itched as we ran and tumbled. We tried to catch crawfish with bacon tied on string and then squealed when we saw a frog hop into the water beside us. We threw rocks at the forest line. We built forts from the broken, dead limbs of fallen trees and filled the walls with leaves and sticks and branches. When we played war, we hurled pine cones at each other and laughed off the bruises. The summer days were infinite. The evenings, green and gold on the asphalt as we strolled through our quiet neighborhood. Our family would not last. Whose does?
We have had our own power struggles over the years, but with her I know the pulls and tugs are just a part of how we move forward together. I think of us like two rocks tied by string and hurtling through the air. When we hit something, we go in different directions, but wrap quickly to the same point. Together, we are a weapon. Apart, we are just rocks. I do not mind being a rock, but it is more fun to be a weapon with her.
And now she is on the other coast and I am not. In our conversations, the past is as present as our new words. Sisters fighting in tall weeds, remembered, with the mark of slaps and nails on skin. Tears. And then laughter. We are still quick to anger, quick to forgive. She tells me that comfort trumps all else. I know what she means. Not the comfort of blankets on a couch or the smell of my grandmother’s bathroom when we were girls—Dove soap and cigarettes—but the comfort of recognition, a similar suffering. A turn that says: I see you. Who else can sit and say, I know, have known, will know you? Who else, but her?
We sat in the creek and drew our fingers deep into the brown sludge. We painted our skin with dirt and mud like that long dead man or woman who drew on the caves in Lascaux. We were our own mountains. We were our own caves. We splashed each other and fought and then made up and played again. Our mother would get the hose and spray us down on the patio before letting us return again into the house. There, we would be bathed in warm water, dressed, and fed. The habits of care are not complicated, but they are exhausting and they are the first work. Hold, feed, dress, clean, wrap, hold, feed, dress, clean, wrap, hold, feed—too, I tend myself as I was tended.
And now she tends me in other ways—calling to check-in, messaging me with encouragement. She taught me how to use emojis and tells me when I am being dumb. She has always seen the poison in my spirit before I can determine its cause. She is like a soothsayer of what I will become, and ours has been a love story, one of the best of my life:
you came into the world mad that I was already here and I told momma
she could take you back to the hospital, I was done, but you stayed
because of course, and we played pretend with rags and fabric scraps
and you banged on my door because you wanted me to come out and
play but I refused and you sulked until dinner but then I made you laugh
and we were friends again until you bit me and I hit you and we
screamed at each other and then your best friend broke the head off my
favorite Barbie and I didn’t want you to play with my friends at my
sleepover but momma said I had to let you and somehow we always
made up anyway.
I remember that one time after church you spun in so many circles that
you got dizzy and hit your head on the wall and momma couldn’t watch
you get stitches and so I stood there and held your hand while you were
made well again and I know I never woke up in time for us to be at
school early and you hated that I left my used wash clothes in the sink
and I know I gave you the silent treatment for years because I didn’t
know how to hold onto where we started and still become something
new, but I always thought you were right when you showed up mad at
me all those years before—you should have gotten here first.
now you speak the language of those who know how quiet the world
can be and you seduce the birds with your laughing in wooded places
and I know you have learned to quell your own anger but do you know I
fold my towels in thirds the way that you do and that when I am afraid I
remember you plunging into the ocean when you were tiny and cross-
eyed? I know there are not enough words to recreate the things we
have done and will do and sometimes I wish I had at least one scar from
all those times that you bit me, but you know you left your mark on me
just the same.
Laura Jean Moore’s poetry, essays, and stories have been featured in VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, FLUX WEEKLY, ENTROPY, the Brooklyn Rail, Corium, the Cobalt Review, and Change Seven, where she is a monthly columnist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. http://laurajeanmoore.com/