Poem of the Week | October 03, 2016

This week, we are proud to present a new poem by Anna Leigh Knowles. Knowles is a MFA candidate at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review and Thrush Poetry Journal. She is an editorial assistant for Crab Orchard Review and Copy Editor for the web anthology www.poemoftheweek.org.
Author’s note:

“Several Deaths of My Sister” is my attempt to record all the times my sister could have died but didn’t. This is one of the first poems I wrote about my sister and there was a lot to be scared of in writing it. I turned to reading poets I admire and who had siblings on the page—poets like Nickole Brown, whose book Sister became a beacon that held my hand through this material and still does. Natalie Diaz and the heartbreaking poems about her brother in When My Brother Was an Aztec were also a valuable resource.

Perhaps I was pleading with whatever force kept taking my sister from me, but I also tried very hard to navigate both my sister and myself through the poem with as much care and tenderness as possible. My sister poems are still very fragile, and I need to be careful for both of our sakes—one poor choice or bad move and the wrong girl gets sacrificed.


Several Deaths of My Sister


She is born half-crushed, trawling with a hip brace
through the house grasping counters, pulling herself up
until she catches in the morning’s white gleam
and watches the mountains in the windows striate her throat
and when their rocks fall it is no accident they deaden in my hands.


She backs into a cactus and I try to pull her out
before she breaks through the cradled scatter
but she wants to stay, to move makes it worse. I know she’s right.


I stare and yell and she cries into the sun.


She’s in the bathroom and breathes hard
at night when the air closes like a muffled rag.


Sometimes I use her inhalers to flinch back what little survives
and wheeze her name in front of the mirror
becoming a lesser version of myself, a shattered camouflage
in all the cutting views and all the gliding light.


I am at the top of the stairs looking down
from where she falls and she does not get up
until I ask her to.


What I remember: cuts on her arms like chine
deep ravines making herself beautiful and she means it—
the welts rise until skin swells and I take what I see. I turn away


and razors petrify what the light did not do, cauterize the wound with a single lash—yes,
I’ve been willing to wage her ransom in dirge


so how is she not dead,


why not punish the hurt from ourselves, why not the sisterless fear,
why not the tendency to assume the worst?


Because I can’t bring her back once she leaves
she is thirsty for relief that never arrives
because she hobbles from doors when things go wrong
because she sings in the window propped on the hutch
because she can’t stand huffing the dust of us, what I fear most
is not losing touch but giving up, bowing out on my sister as she goes.


She goes on dying


in Kentucky,
changes her name, hits bottom and is born again
on the wrong side of the river that only rises when she’s lonely
pulling mud from her throat
trying to cross her name,
a slur of words thrumming from my mouth and I cannot say anything just hum—


the first-born is a body willing to break all that’s breaking through.