Aliki Barnstone: When We Were Girls in Goshen

For Abigail Stone, for Ruth Stone (1915-2011)

She liked to sit in the peacock chair, her wicker throne, Go play!
             said your mother, my godmother wished for with a dandelion puff.
When she spoke, a peacock showed off, opened the hundred eyes
             of his plumage, turning slowly all-seeing in the orchard,
eyes of foliage domes, eyes of delfiniums and tall hollyhocks,
             we pray—guard and look over us who stitch together
with blades of grass, lilac leaf shirts and lily dresses
             arrayed for the little people when they come caroling
and raise up their acorn bowls—
             Heigh, ho, nobody home.

Our inside was our outside—ceiling beams, the twisted apple limbs
             slanting into wallpaper that didn’t cover
only garlanded the invisible panel between this world and the next,
             the cursive tangle of raspberry branches spelling our names,
the red heart-shaped fruit dotting our i’s,
             the wild tea roses climbing the sky,
sometimes dropping petals on the folk’s tiny table—
             Meat nor drink nor money have I none—
or sometimes into their birch bark canoes
             we set afloat on the brook—
petals the color of our skin, as yet unscarred,
             petals the pages for blood sisters to write their vows upon.
Promise not to forget, we’d whisper as we swept pine needle
             brooms across the boulder, our palace floor.
We’ll keep our dream house so clean and polish the glass so clear
             when we’re crowned with feathery white hair
we’ll walk through the walls built brick by brick by the years—
             Still I will be merry, very merry.

Now we’re told she’s buried in the orchard, though her laughter
             rises louder than the brook rushing over the rocks.
See her pointing to our lost calico cat, see her, over there,
             camophlaged by black eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace?
She covers my left ear with her hand, saying shut out
             the voices telling you I’m gone.

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