She was born in December in Baraboo or thereabouts—small, still, blue, a girl, and, by some trick of oxygen, alive.
She lived to marry late. She bore descendants: visions, of sorts— herself transformed, and she herself, by way of them, in view of them, transported irretrievably. Girls, of course. Elise, yes, and yes, of course, the older, the sister—dress and brush and kiss and tell. This is the story: Night again. The tucking in. "Once upon a time . . . ." —and was it pigs or was it bears or something altogether else? It was all of it, always, it seemed, about shelter.
Listen up. Look at her: robust in the pantry, impeccably laced—robe, hair, rib—a baster of meat, of scrap.
"Mother," they call.
These are items she loves: a ring, the linens, curtains at a window, lilacs or some such flower as that.
There is a light she despises.
They want her to look. "Mother," they call her. "Sweet. Come here."
And here she is, as if sniffing the gauze, as if under the glass.
Someone is snuffling, always, it seems.
"Like so," she says, adjusting a finger, a thumb, one hand, two hands: "Here is the church and here is the steeple, open the doors—" and what? Keep what?
There's a whistle in the not-too-distant distance, a chill in the room.
"What is it?" she says. And where have they got to—one, two, three of them, husband and offspring?
"Tell me," she says.
Who is sleeping in the chair? Who is breathing on the pillow? What in the world has been spilling in the kitchen?
"Tell me," she says. And hasn't she said this more than once, twice, in some untidiable past? Roving again, she holds herself, arms full of bedding and other violently laundered belongings, stanching the flow, mopping a floor, a brow, a whetted body—"Girls!" she calls. "Girls?"
The voice is what fails her, and also the riotous pulse at the wrist, and also, of course, the present moment.
"Sweet," she said, sweetly.
Open the hand, and here were the people.
Here was the cake, the knife, the bride.
Here was the coldest sheet.