by Melissa Stein

Father, your antlers are growing again.
I’m between rocks and forest, I’ve
delayed waking up as long as I can.
I hear only one kind of birdsong.
Mother, your eyes are red as the loon’s
who dives down a century on one sharp breath
to dredge up a pilchard in that iron beak.
She built her nest too close to the sea
and it brined her warm white eggs. Failure
is a part of speech. You can conjugate it—
ask my family. My sister, too, turned deer
and fled. My other sister lifted off
into a fog she deputized faith.
We wear everything out, eventually,
love or neglect. We wear our very bodies down.

We each had our own chamber
of the honeycomb. We each had
our own sting. While he was here
my father played guitar. The guitar
was made from pearls. I climbed
a ladder when my mother sang
and hid up on the roof. I grew to love
the thinnest air that winter could provide,
its white erasure. My sisters bled
the veins of night, my mom the throat
of day. My family: shadow of a wasp
crisscrossing yours, anaphylactic,
volatile. Nectar and venom,
one sweet fang.

The sweet? Well, my father planted a garden
near a wide, protecting oak. And my mother
in the house did magic things with thread
and soap. Kitchen saint: mixing bowl,
wire whisk, and blade. The house itself a landmine
in a field of ravishment—such blossoms as
you’ll never see and books you’ll never taste.
My sisters plaited hyacinths into each other’s hair.
My father trimmed them down each year.
They sprang back out, unruly. Our rooms
were clean; we made a pretty mess. I walked my father’s
black umbrella out in lightning storms. I courted
fire in matches, in vapors, in eyes. I called the bolts down.

Band of locusts bent on a single task:
we ate what grew. I see him on the railroad tracks
walking off toward the low sun. My mother
on a towboat, about to cut the rope.
My sisters? One a doctor painstaking
needles, blood. The other spends her days and nights
widening the moat. I suppose I’m in a meadow
cupping ears to bees, or stepping through
a forest, peeling shadows from trees.
I bring them home and carefully cut them
into another family. This one
speaks in whispers. Its violences
are understood. We held such ordinary
menace in our hands. We crouched and hid
behind each door. We signaled. We froze.
We bolted. We grew new bodies. We rose.

I once told you of a prisoner I tried to set free.
They found him, white and bloated, miles north
on a beach. She was my sister; I had the care of her
and failed. Food for crabs, food for snails,
food for emery teeth of fish. They loved her well
until the sea refused. My father was a sailor
on the sea of his own mind. My little boat
could never approach; some wind
always spun me round. But how lovely that sea
in a vitrine, and I never stopped trying.
Until I did, when land jolted up solid,
amazed beneath my feet. None of us
ever reached him. How fathomless the trying.