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sister, foster


I am sitting upright. at the height of your elbow.

You are hidden in green curtains and you want

the back of my hair. the place where it coils

around your knuckle. You position yourself, as

if there were any less clover in the light

through the curtains. It’s a strange pattern

across your eyelids. If I were older, I would

reach to shut them. I would say it’s okay, we

don’t ask. But now your face. Only the shrub

of heavy fabric covering the windows, or paint,

or sorrow in your fingertips, the grip of which

sits me. What girl could ever save

light at the tip of her fingers. I am, your

particular theory. There are no flowers. There is

no hard candy in your lap. But then

the man who brings this heavy lighting would also

bring cut-up dolls and switchblades. That would be

his uniform. I understand this. If I could speak

I would name the doll for you. call it a lily. a lilt.

call it some name other little girls might need. You

and I don’t need this. We have the color of stems.

We have the dark of this room. I am so much older

than three. I am your arbiter, here.


Outside me, this family keeps you.

Your mother stacks church fans in a curio.

Your sisters press another foster girl’s hair. The man,

who prefers you call him by name, has the eyes of a mole.

His glasses fatten the kitchen. He laughs at anything

anyone wants. If I were older I would tell you to dream

of cooking him. I would tell you that helps. I would tell

you to start with the eyes, scoop out the furtive sockets

together, and twist in rhythm

the lemon, rub

deep heat peppers under rib, but I am

small. My words are not spoons.

I will spend some years

asking boys to cut fingertips with me.

And they will say

what you would say, now. likely. This yank,

your fists in my hair


that which might ooze from the throat

of a doll I love. Her skin is leather and thick.

You can see the straw of her scalp.

You can still click her eyes shut and watch her

drip into the ruffles of a sundress.

The tangle, eventually. which dries

to a pine. an imperfect collar of

moss. that we will wear forever. that will bog

your body and keep it with me, the soot of which

tastes of dirt and worm. Now, it’s not. where

you sit, still growing over everything, at the nape

of my neck. And though I am small

I have said yes now. And wake

and wake and wake in the blown grass of light.

from play deadFind more by francine j. harris at the library

Copyright © 2016 francine j. harris
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Published in francine j. harris Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.