Tuesday, April 24, 2012

3rd Selection, April 2012

A Year Ago Today

Once I was 10, and knew my fickle heart would change.
Not wanting to grow up, wanting to always love my Daddy best.

Four girls in five years, almost litter-mates.
Mary was the anchor, protector, Daddy’s favorite,
her burden too heavy, bossy after Mama left.
I was in the sweet spot, one of the Big Girls,
yet sliding easily into each new freedom
(suspect, though, as distant Mama’s favorite).

Then there were the Little Girls:
Harriet the awkward one, knock-kneed, allergic,
Daddy’s favorite, needed ear surgery.
In the hospital, she got a wind-up music egg.

Lilly was the baby in a pixie haircut
(because Grandmother loved to cut kids’ hair,
even our boy cousins; their parents furious),
Lilly the cute one, never an awkward phase,
Daddy’s favorite, everybody’s favorite.

“Who do you love best?” we’d pester him.
“Whoever’s nearest to me at the moment,” he’d say,
a brilliant way to keep us always close.

Our young stepmother arrived, unprepared
for this houseful of raucous girls.

When Lilly turned 13, Dad went about with a tragic air,
“I have four teenaged girls living at home!”
“You’re lucky to have us, Daddy,” we said.

They thought we were blank slates then, to be molded
into devoted, upright Little Women.
“Four daughters, and only one conservative!” he said,
“Where did I go wrong??”

Grandmother let us know
that Daddy’s welfare was our main job.
Couldn’t keep doing that.
Sorry, Grandmother.

Daddy wanted all our devotion for himself,
but it got claustrophobic, and we did grow up.

Mary married an unsuitable man, had a suitable daughter,
found love with a woman, and the religion of magick.
Still bossy; particular now about being “Mary Michele.”

I ran away to Mama, joined the liberals,
did not kill myself, went to college instead.  
Found a new tribe, made my friends,
fell in love with a young man, after much drama,
surprising Daddy with a church wedding,
even if it was Unitarian.

Harriet always stubborn, kept herself free,
travelled the world, taught in Christian schools.

“Your sisters will leave, but you have to stay
and take care of your father.”
Lilli made Grandmother proud; she stayed,
married an unsuitable man, had two
quite suitable sons. Legal secretary, single mom,
the church began to call. 40 years old, went to the
other side of the country to learn the priesthood.
Finally remarried, a grandmother now.

Harriet came back from Texas
to care for Dad and our stepmom
after their surgeries – back surgeries in the City –
his dialysis – he wanted so to fish again

that it was a shock, middle of the night,
when Lillian texted, and I phoned,
something happening at home.
Another call. An ambulance.

“He’s gone,” she said.

Daddy’s gone? Where could he go?
We’re a unit, inseparable.
Aren’t we?

Forgiving myself how little I grieve
for the man I loved first, and almost best.
If he can’t fish, can’t I wish
he could go first, while still unafraid?  
--Ellen Skagerberg

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