Sister Poems

By Grace Bonner
Attention to Detail

Image: Flickr/AisforAmy91


Themis, blindfolded
with drawn sword

dances on the backs
of immortal horses,

parrying all-out-war.
My sister calls me to arms.

I take dead stars
from policemen’s uniforms

and place them in a jar
in Falassarna.

hatching butterflies
in Falassarna.


My sister didn’t              want to live             a serpent             in her heart

.            a serpent             who couldn’t             be charmed             when she fell

it was deliberate               I tried                      to make                        her stay

.            we sat around            the kitchen table       noon darkening       she was gone

I went to Greece                 to see             mermaid mosaics             and heard

.            my sister lost             her mind             in jail             fragmented angels

bear her up             what happened             killed our mother             left a serpent

.            in my heart             her hissing hair             and steady gaze             she had a gun

she disappeared             protect me mother             heart a serpent             must be charmed


Gravity and Grace

My sister says to a camera:
You have no idea the pain
I’m in right now.

She looks fine, physically.
Looks great, in fact.
I have heard her mistake a car service operator

for a God who cares.
Would someone please come,
would someone please come to deliver me—

I have placed the phone in its cradle
and put her drunk to bed.
She wrote a letter about recovery:

We just got back from taking Roxie
on a long walk by the beach and I feel
really good. The exercise and fresh air

helped, despite the cold and fog
(I accidentally typed “god”).
The night after you left,

I dreamed about ghosts. I know this
might sound stupid, but was the Midwest
once covered with trees, like Pennsylvania,

and when people cut them down,
they just stopped growing?

Was good or fog your accidental god?
Where were we while our ghosts lived it up?
I’ve seen that English bulldog of yours hunt fog

for pinecones. She carries them one by one,
round and rough in her muzzle; drops them
at our feet, comes running back

on sand and shell to deliver me.
Her gravity is grace, and as gratuitous.
An accidental god topples me faster

than the world to come. Sister,
the tall-grass prairies are long gone.

Song Traversing a Tenebrous World.

.            .            .            .            .            after a painting by Tino Rodriguez

Children pretend to be planes, arms raised,
laughing until they crash into one another
in the narrow, white-washed streets.

It is Great Friday. People mourn
as though a villager has died.
Was it you, Sister?

From behind strands of salt-hardened hair,
she stares to the back of beyond.
I feel her eyes, hungry to be gone.

I have passed her along the coast,
her retinue of Coors Light
and a hundred thousand unrecorded songs.

Each time she appears, I’m sure will be
the last, that next time she’ll turn up
in seine nets, newly mended after months

of plunder. Be a genius at something else
I tell her, when I don’t want to kill her.
Or: I love the way you play guitar.

If I find her in the sun
with her back against a tree, eyes closed,
bottles away, she’s beatific.

Betsy Bonner author photoGrace Bonner holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her first book of poetry, Round Lake, will be published by Four Way Books in September 2016. She is a MacDowell fellow, and the former Director of the 92Y Poetry Center. She has taught English and Creative Writing at the Pierrepont School and abroad. Her poems have appeared in The New Republic, The Paris Review, Parnassus, Poetry Daily, The Southampton Review and other publications. Her memoir, Ghost Tracks, is about inheritance, sibling rivalry, mental illness, and how the American prison-industrial complex stretched one fragile family to its breaking point. She is a mentor in PEN’s Prison Writing Program.

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