Escaping the Family Legacy
By Lorrie Ness
the first time i saw a baby bird
i recognized my aunt sheila.
blue-veined & frail —all mouth
below bulging eyes,
bones & innards
rising beneath her skin. thinness
compressed her body into braille.
at the pool she read herself by touch
& drank diet coke
inside a fairy ring of bottles.
she made her own perimeters.
edging the deep end
like a synonym for caution. her body
sweated steadily into sky.
mom’s shadow gave her shade. plump
& demanding distance.
within a family without boundaries
fat & bones were twins,
antonyms that meant unfuckable.
each woman grew a shell,
an escape they could never outrun.
their mother traded her father
for a brood. she nursed
till her milk was silty with her dregs,
until the shaft hit mantle.
afterward, grandma spoke lava & pissed
whiskey from her tongue,
pickling every man she mouthed,
so we’d know them by smell.
in great-grandpa’s wake, tobacco steeped the air.
he wore tweed & coaxed
with a sleeve of fig newtons. he flashed
yellow teeth. when i sat on his lap,
mother yanked me away so hard
i was bruised as a bitten apple.