September 1, 2014 by The Citron Review
by Jennifer Popa
This is for my sisters who were slick with mud, poking the dead baby chick with a crooked branch. This is for the nineteen year old calico cat who crawled beneath a bush to die. For the men whose calluses have softened, whose hands have grown as useless and arthritic as Pappaw’s. His skin yielded into crinkled folds for warming our fingers, a supple tissue both familiar and strange.
At any given time these elderly bodies will be lost to us, existing only in the memory of a former life. But one day they will appear within our own features: a knee turned knobby, a faint pleat along the brow, the minute purple rivers mapping the backside of a thigh. Skin will melt and loosen as if preparing to be shed, disentangling itself from the meat of our arms and legs. And as we gather these loose folds in our palms, a memory will percolate into cognition.
A memory of the wobbling pocket of skin at Pappaw’s neck when he smacked my sister. His hand imprinted red-hot across her cheek, as the half-squished baby chick struggled at her toes.
This is for Pappaw’s heart medication, and the kissing sounds he made when looking for the missing cat he would never find. For the wife who had died eleven years prior, who told him she’d never loved him in the first place. Because some secrets fester, they feverishly squirm until released. And when they sting a flesh like ours, they bury barbed stingers that we can sense, but will never work loose.
This is for the half-deflated basketball that half-crushed the chick. To a creature so small, it must have looked like the flash of an incoming planet, a circular dark, or the charge of night.
And maybe it’s better this way, snuffed out before she knows any better. Before we ever realized it was never really about a dirty old bird. Before Mom picked us up. Before she scooped all the things she loved into the back seat of the Chrysler. I didn’t have time to grab my shoes, and for this I cried for ten blocks. Ropes of tears wiped the dirt from my cheeks.
This is for my sisters who scratched their elbows, who fed Mom’s fury with half-truths about Pappaw and distracted her with “What’s for dinner?” but who never cried, though they wanted to.
Jennifer Popa recently earned her MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and now finds herself in Austin, Texas for a postgraduate thaw. Her work is forthcoming in Green Briar Review.