“You need to learn to swim, now,” he says,
resting his warm hand on my tiny shoulder.
I’m proud of my cork-chested suit that will buoy me,
and its colour just like our green family-tartan.
“You need to learn to drive now,” he says,
opening the door of the Rocket ‘88 Olds.
I’m proud of my skill, as we slowly motor along the bumpy lake road,
the grey-velvet seat soft on my skinny 14-year-old legs.
“You need to mess up your perfect life, now,” he says
putting his arms around me, in his big bear hug.
“I need a bunch of grandchildren,” he laughs, “Your sisters won’t have any.”
I’m proud of my baby-bump that he will notice soon, and I hum a lullaby.
“You need to teach them the Bible stories,” he says, slowly,
resting his coffee mug on his knee, in the sunshine.
I’m proud that my eldest already knows them and
is coming through the doorway to tell his Grampey.
“You need to know that I’m a simple man, from a small town,” he coughs,
straightening his oxygen-mask, with expert surgeon’s fingers.
I’m proud that we have chosen a pine coffin, pyjamas, inside-out sweater.
“Every other time, it will be on right,” we’ll say for him, smoothing the cashmere.
Round and warm and soft and cozy, black hair swirled in a bun.
She cradles me in her pine chair, rocking back and forth
and back and forth, singing her lullaby, rubbing my back.
Very busy chatting to herself, she is jaywalking quickly.
Bang! Struck down by a bicycle that will not slow or stop, lands head first.
Kind strangers don’t know her lullaby, call 911, don’t dare touch.
Skinny, cold, confused, on the psych ward, she calls her meds the little black bugs.
“What are we all doing here?” she asks, “waiting for a bus, in our night shirts?”
“It will take us to Snoozeville,” I say, “and should be here soon.” I rub her back.
Wrapped in a blanket, mumbling, shivering, on her bed, she asks,
“Where is my twin?” “Just having her hair done,” I say. She relaxes.
I help her rock, back and forth and back and forth, singing her lullaby, rubbing her feet.
“I knew him first, you know,” she says accusingly, stabbing my arm with her finger.
“Yes,” I say. “He couldn’t decide because you were both so smart and pretty.”
“Yes, that’s right,” she says and calms, as I rub her back, hum her lullaby again.
“Well, I’ll miss my baby,” she says to no one in particular. “Smart university girl, so thin.”
“I lost my baby fat. I’ll miss you, too,” I answer, “You can honeymoon now,” arch my brow.
We laugh. She says, “Oh, very funny. I don’t remember how,” and pats my arm.
“Well, we’ll see if you can do a better job,” she says, “with your three,”
as she clinks her gin-on-the-rocks, touches my hand, stares at the carpet.
I grin, with a lime over my teeth, at my giggling kids tying my shoes together.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” she says, “we’re twins, you know.”
“Yes,” I say and hold her hand, “But she hit her head, so she’s not up to Tuesday.”
“Well, now we’re even,” she answers, “She used to say that about me.”
“It feels so good, that sun on my back,” she closes her eyes and hums.
“Yes,” I say, “Your favourite sun,” and give her a gentle hug and kiss.
“Your father used to do that,” she smiles, “Where did he go, all of a sudden?”
“Well, we’ll see who else is in golf Heaven,” she says, “besides him.”
As she closes her eyes and wills the Great Beyond to beam her up.
“Okay,” I say, as I touch her arm, hum the lullaby, and she smiles.
Shelley is the eldest, teaches me to read,
Holds my hand, as we cross the street.
She hums a lullaby and we skip.
She stands in the doorway, perfect posture
in her satin prom dress, radiant, wide-eyed.
He takes her hand and her corsage trembles.
I wake in the night, and look out the window.
They’re in his car; she struggles with the door.
Tap-tap on the tile floor, crinoline swishing up the stairs.
She’s altered now, suddenly shy, nervous, and confused.
Dates older men, looking for Dad, chooses my Dad-in-law.
I don’t hum anymore or take her hand.
She is frozen, can’t exit the airport, she left her man begging her to stay,
so, she could see Dad, before he died. But she is too late.
I sing the lullaby, take her hand, she weeps, CJ unlocks the car.
CJ punches and kicks, as we roll on the floor, kids fighting.
I flail my arms and legs at this angry, whirling sister,
who doesn’t want me, resents my happiness.
She backpacks in Europe alone, searching for herself,
returns angry, resents sharing a room, throws pillows.
Dad helps me drag a mattress down the hall to his office.
CJ swears at my emerald ring, “Why marry that guy?
Do you really need a man to make you feel special?”
She throws shoes at me, as I hum the lullaby, walk away.
CJ punches me hard in the arm; I have left David.
“Look what you’re doing to your kids,” she yells.
I sing the lullaby, touch her arm, and she stares into space.
First baby: soft, silky skin, smooth to my touch.
His fingers clutch my chest, tiny mouth sucks on my breast.
His squishy toes push against my hand.
His lips blow bubbles, teeny throat gurgles.
His body vibrates with excitement, every limb buzzes.
I sing the lullaby, rub his back, he smiles and calms.
Adult now, skin feels soft when he shaves.
His fingers clutch a beer, thirsty mouth sucks on it.
His toes push inside his work boots.
His lips swear, large throat swallows.
His body vibrates with tension, every limb buzzes.
I sing the lullaby, rub his back, he calms and smiles.
First baby girl, composed, quiet, arrives early.
Opens her eyes to the world. Unimpressed, closes them again,
Grips my finger, dreams of floating in her warm liquid world.
Loving sister follows big brother, tries to ride his abandoned two-wheeler.
Suddenly he is an expert, showing her how to balance. She watches intently.
I hum the lullaby, she waves, wheels by smoothly, grinning her Grampey grin.
We hug as she follows her man to another province. I hold my breath.
She begins her new life, takes on the world, outgrows and betters him.
Still, she stays. Then it is over and she flies home to begin again.
Now, associate director of this-and-that, she eyes her daily planning journal.
Swept away by shining love in Santorini, she sparkles and dazzles, just like her ring.
Grips my hand, dreams of babies, as we float in our warm liquid-spa world.
Second baby girl, embraces life with tiny hands and lots of sound.
Arrives early, big blue eyes, blond hair, engaged in the world.
Settles in, nurses with joy, grips my finger, hugs my skin, hums.
Attached to her big brother and sister, follows them everywhere.
Wrestles with big brother, enjoys magic adventures with big sister.
Climbs into Grampey’s lap, and even Nana’s, with a book.
Party-girl loves to push the envelope, see where trouble can lead.
Schmoozes teachers, learns the angles, graduates from my alma mater with honours.
Volunteers with homeless and troubled teens, understands and empathizes.
Now, senior account-everything, works early and late, energized with ideas.
Schmoozes clients, yogas, paddles, dog-sits, loves her guy, tells me her dreams.
Settles in, laughs with joy, grips my hand, hugs my body, hums.
We ride: he drives, I passenge with helmet and Gore Tex gear.
We love: Hug on the Fox Glacier, kiss on the Zambezi.
We celebrate: Prosecco in the Alps, Pisco sour in the Andes.
We laugh: with our kids in Toronto, BC et la Suisse.
We dance: at two weddings, armchair boogie in the car wash.
We crash: I fly across the highway; he plunges into the ditch.
We rise again: Each day is a gift and a magical journey.
His warm hand presses gently on my arm,
spreading calm through my body, like oxytocin.
He enfolds me with love and I am home again.
We lie on the bed, immobile, broken,
right legs in casts, resting on foam wedges.
My eleven fractures, his two, and total-body bruising.
We breathe in and out and hold hands.
We imagine hot, bubbling water, up to our necks, in Patagonia
and smile at each other.
Cover photo by Nathalia Segato