Visual art by Carolyn Adams
I am scared to be the oldest of us. When you were born I sat in the hospital, waiting, or slept and dreamt of your new names. I heard you speak your first words; one of you pointed at the chandelier above the dining room table and whispered pretty lights. I was three years old when the first of you arrived, seventeen at the last— the same year I left for college and moved three hours away. The plains spanned between us. No matter how I tried to fold them like a bedsheet.
The hour earlier here and still
darkness reaches me before it reaches you.
The distance between us expands and we inhale. I move to Washington for graduate school, two of you move to my old college town. The rooms in our parents’ basements slowly empty. When I return home I find blocks beneath my bed and each year more obscurity. And each of you, more beautiful, though you have always been beautiful (I know, I saw you meet the sun). You make me birthday cards and mail them across Montana. The youngest of you writes,
You are like a mountain to me.
Beautiful, but so far away.
Though we celebrate in different cities, your birthdays fill my year with bright streamers. I forget how old you are, watch the sun settle into night and count the breaths between our time zones. When the moon appears to you it is because I have sent it. And I wanted you to know— a bird whose wings span wider than your arms or mine holds my heart in its black talons and migrates back and forth between our homes. It never makes its nest, flies north even in winter— its feathers falling everywhere.
The bird sings
and the heart molts.