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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.