This birthday I have reached the age
where my mother bore
the last of her dead daughters—
one that was whisked away
before its first clean cry
could scour the naked room, the later two
a blue that refused to brighten.
"Baby Girl, Infant Daughter of ..."
the little markers said
and I listened from behind the stove
in her last pregnancy,
watched her body swell and sag,
knew from the shape
of those whispered words
that something was amiss—
she was weighted already
with two small stones.
Summer mornings I called them forth—
the little sisters I had never seen—
made them faces
from the old ache
in the air above the garden,
hair like mine
from the grassy space
where root crops should have been.
I learned of blood tests, transfusions,
the factor called Rh,
my little sisters
dreaming their aquatic days
on lethal ropes, my mother
Now at the kitchen table
lighting candles on a cake,
I am empty-handed,
no daughters to give her
as she counts again
my miraculous birth,
fourth and forceps-born,
her last survivor in that war
of blood with family blood.
I reach for her hand and hold it,
but there are spaces here,
tender lacunae we cannot fold away.
Still somewhere the hand-stitched garments,
the gingham quilts, the counting game.
Still the soot-smudged corner
where I crouched beneath the stovepipe
and fingered like a rosary
the small pebbles of their names.