How she was, at once, always in attendance & always lost,
answering to different names—Kelly, Alexis, Jennifer, Jane—
evoking strangely contradictory dispositions.
We had trained her well; she became whoever we needed her
to be, the ballast for me & for my bloody knees, my
Allegory of the Hardy Weed.
In families like ours, there were always two kids—
the way tables came equipped with pepper & salt,
the way coffee was served with sugar & cream.
These children arrived, symmetrical accessories:
one for each parent’s lap & the bucket backseats
of the family sedan in the neighborhood caravan.
I saw her then as someone lucky, she who had
colored over the blueprints of her birth, evading acne &
embarrassment & the decade’s pandemic of at-home Ogilvie perms.
I mourned her also, missing witness to a crime, the chalk
outline of her fragile body-shadow crouching behind mine:
desperate accomplice in biding our mutual time.
Sometimes still, the sight of disheveled cushions or a partial
glass of wine reminds me of this figure I never see but feel;
her prolific absence following me, from the orphaning of adolescence,
through the galleries of acquiescence, to the Family Portrait,
where I stand alone with the strangers who raised me—their crucible,
their cornerstone: begrudging bearer of their weighty, singular world.