***CW for sexual assault and sexual violence I am a girl, Antigone. I have a sister. We love Each other terribly. Robyn Schiff You would think that the two Athenians’ bodies Were poised on wings, and poised on wings they were, Philomela flying off to the woods As a nightingale, and Procne as a swallow Rising up to the eaves. Ovid, trans. Stanley Lombardo
i.My sister tells me she is a bird.She does not say she is a birdbut I know it to be true. She wheelsand dives. Her pinions swoop.Somewhere, moss and toothwortcarpet the wood floor. Somewhere:generations of birds are born.ii.The nest of eggs. The shedin the woods. The foxygentleman and the lupinesaround Jemimah.Her feathered desire.Into this story Beatricepoured her sympathylike tea in a china cup.The hounds lick upthe broken eggs.iii.My sister tells meand my memoryis clean, an empty stairthough she saysI walked up them,opened the door.That I calledmy fatherat work. Whatis this? Thisnothingin my brain –this blank day –my life had stooda loaded gun.iv.If you slammed a doortoo hardin my family’s housea rifle would fallfrom the topof the wooden buffet—a gun always seemedto be falling.It never went off.v.My other sister’s harm, I remember—another bird in the rafters—anger on my body like a finedust on Mars, in my lungs;anger where the stairsmet hardwood hallway,entryway rugs, the stairs stillcarpeted, not yet creaking.My pacifying mother.My other, younger sister.vi.I want an otherworldly ex-planation for unkindness whichis the milk of this world.vii.Anger is different than rage.Rage: a hurricane that makesthe whole world wet.Anger: directed at anotherperson like the sharpnessof a scalpel; acknowledginga person the way a wingacknowledges a buffet of air:by flying into it. The way wingmakes power of a draft—rides it.viii.The confusion is one of havingnothing. The confusion isI have two sisters, whom I love.They have hands and tongues.But we three sisters have differentmemories, speckled and striped.Facets of a stone. Points on a shell.ix.I don’t mean to go on long,to go on with longing—like a pilgrim with a distance stillto go, and a burden on their back—but at one time all three of us wereflannelled and nightgowned,on the couch together. The moonlit. The cedars filling the night.Happy. Laughing. Last century.x.Sometimes something has to bea wing, a joint and tendon: awooden spoon, a dowel rod, wax—as many feathers as you can pluckwith your own two hands from a birdthat only two minutes ago ran throughthe clover on its yellow, spurred feet.xi.For each thing given to you,make one thing up. For every nametold, recite a new name. For eachreceived story with a man makinga woman, build your own personout of feathers and flowers.Daedalus, Pygmalion: let them go.xii.Arachne asks you to come and sit.Never mind her many legs. Move over.Gossamer silk, the spider’s throwingline, has the filament strength of alloyedsteel. Arachne will teach you nothing.You teach her how to spin a tale so longshe can climb down the end and jump.xiii.It will always matter that youare a woman. Or that someonesaw you as one (or not one) in the past,sees you as one (or not one) in the present,future. That bird is slang for a woman,as well as any “man made object”(aircraft, rocket, satellite) that resemblesa bird by flying, being aloft.That “the bird” is an obscene gesture;your finger practically raises itself.xiv.****My sisters tell me I am a bird
Copyright © 2021 by Hannah VanderHart
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Hannah VanderHart lives in Durham, North Carolina, under the pines. She has poetry, essays and reviews published in Kenyon Review, The American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, AGNI, The Adroit Journal, RHINO Poetry, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She is the author of the poetry collection What Pecan Light (Bull City Press, 2021).
Established in 2008, Up the Staircase Quarterly is an online journal of poetry, art, interviews, and reviews. New issues are published every February, May, August, and November, unless otherwise stated.
UtSQ nominates for the Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets. Poems published in UtSQ have appeared in Best of the Net. You can join Up the Staircase Quarterly on Facebook and Twitter for updates and news.