The older cousin, you know the one;
the one we ran from, all of us
so much smaller.
His long strides as he chased,
our legs short but fast,
a fox outpaced by the hens.
His hands grabbing, his voice
slick with tones we did not understand
but somehow knew to fear.
And after he’d gone, how we’d gather,
purple popsicles, bare feet,
eyes wide and dark as a barn owl’s,
how we’d whisper to one another
the stories of almosts, he tried to,
he took me upstairs alone.
Not knowing the import, we’d giggle,
voices soft as moth wings
brushing the screen as evening died.
We grew older and remembered,
told our mothers, two sisters,
each one listening, shaking a head:
His mother had suffered enough:
a cruel husband, another child dead,
silence was the way. No true harm done.
Stranded, then, left on our own
memories tingle and worry,
an elusive itch distressing our days.
Trapped in tight throats,
questions huddle like scavengers:
Did we survive each snap of elastic
as fingers snagged and tore at our waists,
each whisper pressed close to our ears?
In nights limned by sweat-yellowed sleep,
images flicker like fireflies
caught within fretting, stifling dreams
leaving us hollow-eyed and pale
in morning’s bloom of indigo light.