General Poetry posted October 9, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
Narrative poem for all the siblings who gave their lives.

Essential Sister

by Cynthia Adams1

When she was three fingers old, Emma rocked her doll to sleep,
telling her she'd feel better in the morning.
When they were both a year older, she rummaged through her
bright red doctor's kit for psychedelic yellow band-aids
and finding none, settled for blue.

Several years later, I was reading in my room and thought I heard
Kookaburras squawking. One of her giggly pre-teen friends had set off
the annoying buzzer repeatedly, while trying to remove a plastic kidney.
I knew it wasn't Emma ...
her hands were too steady.

In 2010, Joe and I graduated college and came back home
to a pink-flowered binder filled with Emma's medical questions.
That is, Joe, the chemist, did. (I was an English major.)
Scientific words poured like Venetian rain from the mouth of our little sister
whom I now realized, was almost old enough to vote.

I was about to leave for Austin and my cool, new writing job
when I heard Emma speaking warmly to her small, sick puppy, Big.
"It will be alright, Big" she said, in a three-tissue voice:
"It could be worse. So much worse."
I smiled and thought: Some things don't change.

Some things do. Here we are ten years later, gathered on Bermuda grass.
I was thinking of that day long-past, wanting to hold onto Emma like she held onto Big.
If I could, I'd awkwardly stroke her auburn hair and lie to her in my croaky voice:
"It could be worse. So much worse."
But I'm not that good a liar and she's no longer here.

Her boss said: "It got real bad in Dallas." But it was hard to understand, with our pounding hearts
and muffled whimpers drowning out the words. I'm pretty sure I lost myself when he got to
man-shaped sheets but roused when I heard him weeping as he spoke our sister's name.
"Emma volunteered," he told us. He rubbed his sweat-smeared head.
"She would," we whispered, huddled. "Dear God, our Emma would."

Essential Workers contest entry



You may be wondering and the answer is no; I have not lost a sibling. (Praise God.)
I wanted to honor all those who have gone through that Hell. I tried to write a rhyming poem but found it made the words sound too frivolous. So I have attempted a free-verse narrative poem; the first I've ever written.
Copyright: Cynthia A. Adams 10/9/20
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by Mr Jones at

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