My nieces tell me how they used to cringe,
afraid of my college portrait in the rumpus room,
my spooky pupils and wild hair. The picture
was black and white, and I thought artsy,
but they were used to color. I wasn't smiling
in the picture—I had weird bangs
and wore a vintage dress. I was unlike anything else
in their grandparents' house—which was floral
and potpourri and seashells. My gray eyes
followed them around the room
as they played Chutes and Ladders
or finger-painted on butcher-block paper.
I thought I was the favorite aunt, the cool one
who came by twice a year, who took them
to New York, who bought them wacky dolls
from foreign countries, which I now understand
they took to be some kind of voodoo or black magic.
I knew them as little artistes, girls who would tell me
their weird dreams. We made up songs together.
I spun them upside down. I let them wear
my big clip-on earrings and even bigger sunglasses.
I never knew they wanted me to be normal.
They didn't know I wanted them to be like me.
"You'll be a painter," I said to the graphic designer.
"You'll be a famous psychiatrist," I said to the academic.
In fact, we used to play therapy—the girls took turns
lying on the couch and I encouraged them
to say whatever came into their heads,
mostly delicious nonsense—a string of words so sonic
and exquisite I wrote everything down to use in a poem.
Those were my therapist notes. I don't know
what stopped me from transcribing them—
except to say even then I had inklings
that they were each their own persons,
and I was myself. That our ideas of each other,
though false, were the true poems.
Green Mountains Review
Volume 26, No. 2