Nickole Brown's Sister
Sister, a collection of poems by Nickole Brown (2007 Red Hen Press), explores the themes of birth, death, guilt, redemption, and family ties through a fraternal, or in this case, sisterly bond. The deceptive fragility of the relationship sisters share is introduced in Brown’s poem "Preface”:
...placenta with one prayer, stay-
until we grew enough
to kick her
skin up into a sheet tent
in the night
..Here is a flashlight,
give me your hand, together
we will make shadows;
..I tell you this story because it is
the story we need
to believe our offal is divine,
the worst of our darkness…
What follows in Sister are a series of poems that chronicle the poet’s journey into life with a half-neglected sibling while she re-examines the bond which can’t be broken, despite their difference in age, and in spite of what Time and Life take away. In "A Cup of Anything" the poet shares the shame and embarrassment of not taking the time to strengthen that sisterly bond:
..How can you
forgive me as I've spent
more time trickling
water between the fat
leaves of my jade plant
than brushing your hair?
you don't know
me and I know
I know the cat
better than you.
In part, Sister gives a narrative summary of a young woman coming of age in the 70's, which could very well have been the story for those of us who are the same age as the author. The poems are reminiscent of a time when, possibly, many women foolishly misspent their youth looking for a Mr. “Right” to take care of them. Brown stresses that during that time, survival was a challenge, especially for women who had children to care for, particularly in the South, where the author resides. In "1979,” a woman finds comfort comes in, of all places, a beauty salon where a child is reassured that a mother will not leave her for a man:
...It was another year before
she got herself a diamond and dropped
her scissors in the neon blue for good, leaving
right before the wake of purple sores,
all those men I adored abandoning
their hard-ons through the holes of walls…
…And Enrique, he scooped me up on his fat lap, said "girl,
wild horses wouldn't drive that crazy mama from you."…
…I pressed into his body-
He was soft bruised fruit-
And I was blessed to ever know
A man's flesh could feel sun
Warm, smell peach sweet.
Brown gently castigates the reader and herself with her simple, dramatic poetry. In "Thrush", she successfully conveys her guilt over the continued neglect of her sister, of being unable to care for the very person she’s magically bonded to, despite battle scars of a family coming apart.
Little Bird, little crier,
I had nothing to give. And knowing how everything I was
cleaved, I tried to lullaby you, but couldn't sing the part
about the bough. Out of song,
I set you down to fend for yourself, stepped away thinking
I'd never be anything more to you than
an axe, a knife, a slingshot snapped back into the blue sky.
At the end, Brown, a graduate from the MFA program for Creative Writing at Vermont College, does indeed one day, finally go home. In "Christmas" we see the healing between sisters has begun-
Sister, I am ashamed to say it
but I was frightened- not of death
but resignation, the acceptance
of enough, gifts wrapped under a tree
with its bad side pushed
to the wall, the holiday
jar of hard candy
stuck in one multicolored lump.
There is resolution between Brown and her sister. The opportunity for redemption comes full circle in "Invitation.” It’s the chance so few people receive… a knock on the door, the door opens, and then the moment where one realized that one has finally come home... and that all is forgiven:
Come over Saturday. Drop your
sloppy satchel of books at my front door
and wear that blue shade of eyeliner
that you are not yet too old to wear…
We'll rent a movie
We don't agree on, sit next to each other
on the couch and I'll notice
your nails-white keratin, bitten down
moons; nervous and your knees drawn up, rocking
gently to the edge. I'll pretend
there's this fast one, his hand sliding up,
his name all over your locker…
But don't worry, I won't ask.
…I won't say to you, wait.
I won't say listen...
No, sister, there is a warm
silence here, a smile a gesture. I'll say,
pass the popcorn, dork-o, and you'll smile.
I'll say, cute shoes and you'll stretch
your bare feet before you and put them on before
Sister, Nickole Brown, copyright 2007 Red Hen Press, 987-1-59709-089-6, 111 pages, available in perfect bound ($18.95 + shipping)