“What to Say When Your Baby Sister Tells You …” by Shangrila Willy

Shangrila Willy


It’s definitely not Congrats! Not, Why?
Not, Will you winter here or in the caves
of Glubslubgoo? Not, What a lovely ring!
or Well, I guess Thanksgiving’s going to be
salt-free this year. Not sobbing. Not a sharpened
shiv of intake followed by, I think
I swallowed a fly. Not silence or the breath
-less hitch that’s worse than silence, inching down
the passage of your throat secreting slime
the way the cavern worms who live below
Slub City, big as wingless Boeings, eat
the rock and unrelenting dark beyond
the phosphorescent dim of what they call
a sky and shit a trail of gleaming lime
while in their seismic wake the houses shed
their needless shingles tipped with gilt. So not,
You’ll be an Empress of all that. Do you
remember back in second grade, when I
left elementary school to skip ahead
and you cried every day because you took
a different bus than mine—how Mother made
two crowns from Christmas foil that Halloween
and Queened us both, we Cleopatras draped
in gold lamé and rhinestones, smiling like
a pair of Sphinxes off their leashes left
to wreck the pharaoh’s gardens on a lark
sans chaperone, our hands together, bound
by pact to split the share of Snickers bars
collectively, a fifty-fifty fair,
but really so you wouldn’t have to walk
alone, afraid of the dark, your sticky palm
damp as dread and tight in mine until
the almost end, when you braved Fat O’Keefe’s
unlit Victorian—as I hung back unwilling
to go—and came out with a treasure trove
we squabbled for all week. Not, Are you sure?
Not, When’s the date? Not, He’s not even fit
to wed a cross-eyed cow. Not, What if you
get lost among the fungus fields and no
one hears your cries for help? Not, So. You’re caught
between the time you told her muddy sluice
was chocolate milk and had her drink it from
your crooked fingers cupped beneath her chin
and now, when every face you’ll try to wear
is wrong. No matter what you find to say,
or not say—the truth is this: you’ll lie.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
Tribute to Speculative Poetry


Shangrila Willy: “The world was always making words at me, and like Eurydice, I followed the music—sometimes out of Hell, sometimes into it. I write because I’m a good Texas girl with attenuated roots in a thrice-colonized equatorial island who was transplanted to the motley hothouse of the Mid-Atlantic, and to not say anything back seems awfully rude.” (website)

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