The Dying Sister
You fell in slo-mo like a mimosa petal caught in a small breeze, sprawling, nearly soundless, on our parents’ speckled linoleum. I, five years younger, didn’t know you held your breath to make yourself faint. I didn’t know you’d whittled yourself down to taut skin over sharp bones by spitting meals into your napkin. I cried because I thought you had the “C” like Aunt Ceil. When you slept until 4:00 p.m. and Mother put a mirror to your parted lips, I never expected breath. Those “slashes” on your wrists, grazes that didn’t need stitches, healed to pearly stripes.
Black widow spider, you wove us all into your worry-web, yet went on to outlive a husband and three live-in men. How old were you when you first fell in love with death?
Somewhere I remember you and me leaping from your twin bed to mine, the bottoms of our nightgowns ballooning, your chestnut hair flying up from your shoulders. You, airborne, born of air. We had to grip your arms to stop you from throwing yourself into Father’s open grave.
When a doctor would tell you to see a psychologist, you’d switch your doctor. I changed my phone number, returned your letters unopened. Then Mother would say, “But she’s your sister.” I would phone, and soon your silky thread would begin to spool itself around me.
Hatching your latest death, you bought a mobile home in a trailer park smack inside a hurricane belt. I startle at loud noises, as if your house had just blown here from Florida and thunked down in my yard.
Last night I dreamed you were laid out in a coffin on palest blue satin, your hair in tendrils on the lace-edged pillow. Dry-eyed, I felt myself take full breaths.
Eating With Ghosts
Here I am, eating with my son, daughter, husband,
reminding myself to chew, to not cup my hand
at the rim of my plate to shelter my food,
as if my dead father could reach for it again.
In Russia, he sucked on bark, even stones.
Here I am, asking everyone about their day,
leaving some food on my plate
to please my mother’s ghost.
“This way you won’t get broad in the beam.”
Her hand pinches the small fleshy roll
at the waistband of her girdle.
At night, when everyone is in bed,
you can find me in the dark kitchen,
bending into the open fridge,
the glow of its cold bulb,
eating leftovers with my fingers,
choking on unchewed food.
Shh, don’t tell.
Rochelle’s novel, Miriam The Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004), was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Her short story collection What I Wish You’d Told Me (Shebooks, 2014) is just out in audio. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, The Doctor TJ Eckleberg Review, Stone Path Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Stand, Inkwell Magazine, Amarillo Bay, Poet Lore, Crack the Spine, Compass Rose, Controlled Burn, The Griffin, Los Angeles Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, The MacGuffin, Memoir And, Moment, Negative Capability, The Louisville Review, Amoskeag, Pennsylvania English, Rio Grande Review, RiverSedge, Peregrine, Gulf Coast, Existere, Passager, and Willow Review. Her poetry has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and I won the Branden Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability. Currently, she teaches writing at UCLA Extension.