GIRL IN THE DAPPLED SHADE BY PAMELA VAP
If Shirley Temple were a bird, she would
look like the girl who is perched on the limb,
ringlet curls, eyebrows arched like a wing, round
cheeks, and missing her front baby teeth.
Below the branch her skinny stick legs dangle
like a pendulum. She shifts her wild body
on the rough gray bark of the carob tree
and tilts her head to the sky; a song lisps loud.
She considers climbing one branch higher
than her mother said she could, but instead
leans back and tongues the missing teeth.
She’s content for now, unaware that soon
her little brother will die; the little
brother who is at this very moment
eating mashed bananas, rocking
and humming his own breakfast song–
not unlike the song of his sister high
in the tree outside. Sweet banana slime
drips from his chin to the terrycloth bib.
Cheerio confetti litters the floor.
This baby’s chubby legs swing to the tune
of ma-ma-ma-ma, and his two-toothed grin
brings his mother to retrieve the bowl,
the spoon and the plastic horse from the floor.
Later that month both children’s songs will cease.
Instead the older girl will stand and watch
while cold cloths are placed, one after the other,
on the forehead and slight neck of her brother
whose eyelids are thin as pink rose petals.
Then she will watch through the heavy
hospital glass as his tiny bare chest
rises and falls on the stainless-steel bed.
Tubes and beepers and flashing lights
and the slow drip of the bag tell her nothing.
After the funeral, the girl will watch
neighbors bring rolls and chocolate cakes,
ham and cheese sandwiches, paper plates, cups,
and floral cards. They cannot refill the house.
But all of that comes later. This day the girl
has her summer song. She has the gentle wind
in the tree; she has left the hard ground
below to witness light and shadow
through the dancing leaves. This
warm and sunny day the girl is unaware
that before the year’s end, her mother’s
soft, safe breasts will turn unkind, that too soon
a cancer will bed her mother until the girl
does not recognize the horizontal woman
with no place to pillow a small girl’s head.
She will watch as this strange woman
withers away in the once warm room
just down the hall from the empty nursery.
The girl will simply not recognize
the plastic woman lying in the box
with her hands still at her side, eyes closed.
This second funeral will be followed
by dreams of a pretty lady waving
good bye, a baby riding on her hip.
But all of that comes later.
So do not hurry this morning.
Let the girl sit in the dappled shade
of the tree. Let her sing and swing
her skinny legs back and forth. Back
and forth. No one knows
yet. Do not hurry this morning.