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by Yvonne Higgins Leach
He hauled the memory of his mother’s dead face
with him. And later, his weeping father
on the stoop, too drunk to stand.
His heart calcified when no one wanted him.
Or his sister. They became income
for foster families. Good only
for chores and left to eat boxed
macaroni and cheese in the kitchen
while in the dining room the family ate steak.
Refused to show them he cared. An existence
of behave nicely and protect, he stroked
her fine hair when she cried.
Years went on: he taught her math,
worked two jobs to buy her shoes
and skirts and books. Had to approve
each date and meet the boy, too.
He knew he was carrying her,
but then one day she told him she could do
and be anything, and that’s when
he put her down and got out of the way.
She was so young she couldn’t remember
either parent. Her first memory was of
her brother calming her on some strange
cot in some strange house somewhere.
And those houses changed over time,
as did the names of the families
and their faces. No holiday was ever
the same, if there was one. An existence
of be a nice little girl and do your chores,
she left food on her plate knowing
he was hungry, growing into a man’s body.
Years went on: she struggled but learned
algebra and even geometry, never complained
that compared to other girls she looked scrappy.
Was never embarrassed telling her date
he had to be introduced to her brother first.
She knew he wouldn’t live his own life
until she stood strong herself. So one day
she put her hand on his cheek, told him
she would do him proud, and put his heart at ease.