My sister Betty, ages three to seventy three
She Always Sleeps with the Radio On
as I negotiate
the squeaky stairs
from her attic guest room
down to the bathroom
one more time,
I hear the voices.
I imagine them as her companions,
drowning out night sounds,
freeing her mind from its hard task
Tonight, she sits on a lawn chair
on the grass. I sit on the front steps,
to a friend on the
steps next to me, strumming, strumming,
as my sister and I sing along
in high school harmony.
The little girls across the street
are the first to come,
tiny lawn chairs in arms,
to plop themselves in front of us
for the concert.
As they settle, my sister says,
“Now, back to the music.”
Moments later, their mother follows,
bringing initial happy news
of their upcoming trip
to a lake where last year
a teenage girl had been abducted,
a segue to more disturbing news
of yesterday’s daylight intruder
flushed from a house a block away.
the police car
by his vigilance as we walked
the neighborhood today.
I’d smiled at the man on the bike who didn’t look
a part of this neighborhood, wondering how he’d fare,
but now I feel the threat of him.
“House of the Rising Sun,” stops dog-walkers in their tracks
as the litle ones
sit on the sidewalk
stringing beads I brought,
capturing this night
to hang around their necks:
gray plastic elephants,
green dolphins strung midleap
on sparkly purple cord.
This night strings us all together:
beads, words, music, the night sounds
of insects and frogs,
happy stories interspersed with fearful ones,
traffic from the busy street one block away.
are what break us apart.
As we climb the stairs,
to the only
in the house
For the first time
in the week I’ve been here,
I hear no radio
on my nightlong explorations
down the stairs.
At ten o’clock, 1:30 and 3,
the hall outside her bedroom
this evening’s full company
flooding over into the night.
We have exhausted her mind, filled it, worn her out.
She stlll feels our presence.
A creaking door, and once again,
a cup for her to fill.
Something is needed
to relieve worry—
to leave no room
for either remembering
or the lack of it.
I hear them then, insistent, down the stairs and in the hall.
Voices all night long.