Escaping the Family Legacy


the first time i saw a baby bird
the firsti recognized my aunt sheila.

blue-veined & frail —all mouth
the firstbelow bulging eyes,

bones & innards
the firstrising beneath her skin. thinness

compressed her body into braille.
the firstat the pool she read herself by touch

& drank diet coke
the firstinside a fairy ring of bottles.

she made her own perimeters.
the firstedging the deep end

like a synonym for caution. her body
the firstsweated steadily into sky.

mom’s shadow gave her shade. plump
the first& demanding distance.

within a family without boundaries
the firstfat & bones were twins,

antonyms that meant unfuckable.
the firsteach woman grew a shell,

an escape they could never outrun.
the firsttheir mother traded her father

for a brood. she nursed
the firsttill her milk was silty with her dregs,

mining herself
the firstuntil the shaft hit mantle.

afterward, grandma spoke lava & pissed
the firstwhiskey from her tongue,

pickling every man she mouthed,
the firstso we’d know them by smell.

in great-grandpa’s wake, tobacco steeped the air.
the firsthe wore tweed & coaxed

with a sleeve of fig newtons. he flashed
the firstyellow teeth. when i sat on his lap,

mother yanked me away so hard
the firsti was bruised as a bitten apple.

Lorrie Ness