Heirlooms

by CHET'LA SEBREE

 

 

I.

An egg laying, warm-blooded, feathered creature—
my great-grandmother owned a canary.
I was fourteen when Ruth died, when she left me
a gold locket, her wedding bands, and 

phrases like wash your bird
Not the chordata, but the polite word for pussy
more familiar than the clinical vagina.

I never felt brave enough
to ask why she preferred bird 
when threw around fuck and cunt
salt over her shoulder for luck.  

Didn’t know if one day I’d become her
or a woman in a story where
no one knows what happened
to her canary, her bird.

 


II.

Everyone’s uterus has been taken—
grand’s and great-grand’s, my mom’s, 

my aunts’.  Everyone’s except mine
and the ex-stripper sister’s, but 

her body bloats for the scalpel.  
Everyone on me about children— 

you want to have energy,
your body won’t bounce back.

But what I hear is do it while you can—
a legacy of emptied wombs from slave

to sharecropper to houses-maid.
Menorrhagia plaguing us at a young age.

I—born twenty years to late to care,
just on time for my apathy, and 

36 days earlier than expected—run
my premature hands ragged 

scrawling pages with words
they wouldn’t keep 

for the chance
for a productive bleed.

 

 

III.

I collect other people’s things—
pots, pans, boyfriends, clothing.

Ruth would call this borrowing heavy.
My house a collection of things

that don’t belong to me—
my couch and college degrees, 

jewelry.  Never once these things
called into question.  I say they’re gifts,

say it’s the universe’s pre-penance
for what none of us need to be told—

Gilbert women are not invincible.
The tumors borrow back

regardless of what we stole.

 


IV.

I let Ruth dangle, swing a pendulum
between my breasts as I walk down streets—
people gawking at gold swinging at arm’s length.

I have her Gilbert-ass that won’t stop growing, 
her high-yellow tones, and quick-whip tongue
prepared to lash anyone.

In her daughter’s kitchen, I combed her
hair to silk.  It went so fine in age, the bristles
could trace the history of her scalp—
tight buns she wore when she cleaned house.

I have the coarser strands from my father’s people
but I am more estranged from them than she—
a decade decomposed, preserved forever around my neck. 
No dirt on her face in death.