"Reconciliation" Contest Winners / December 2014 (Issue 26)

Aunt Esther

by L.S. Bassen

Esther, my father's sister,
you are a family mystery.
I am writing letters to Rachel,
your baby sister in Los Angeles.
She is eighty-six now.
The silence of the past
is the weight that presses
strata of rock into timelines,
rings the widening waists of trees.
I came home from college
one winter night to find a candle
burning on the kitchen stove
for you. You had drowned.
My father found you in your tub.
He never spoke of it, of you,
but he rarely spoke of anything.
Aunt Esther, do you remember
giving me the opera paperback?
My mother loathed me for our likeness.
The silence of the past
is the glass that presses against
family portraits and reflects
living faces looking in, and away.
You won writing prizes in high school,
Rachel tells. Your brother, like mine,
Valedictorian, male, and preferred.
You clung, but weakly, to the word.
Were you too tired and the water too hot?
I remember the spring behind
your house and under the hill.
My father held a greenglass gallon jug
to a pipe; I've remembered that water
all my life, metal cold and clean.
The silence of the past
is the heaviness of rain falling into streams
filling underground, rising to this surface
where we stand thirsty, and drink.
A small garden snake ran in the grass
behind the house in Liberty, New York.
My father held it in his open hand
to show me its green harmlessness.
He picked wild strawberries for me.
The silence of the past
is the lined green face of a leaf buoyed
in this day's June breeze massing
the clouds into coming thunder, and rain.
Esther, my father's sister,
I cannot let your life fail.
I hear your silence, not a cry,
But a consolation. My mother is there
with you now. Make her understand.

L.S. BassenThis is a Finalist of Cha's "Reconciliation" Poetry Contest. L.S. Bassen on "Aunt Esther": This was a poem mourning my mother. Her antagonism toward her sister-in-law was real and also represented her demons that I struggled to exorcize. I also needed to expiate guilt I felt toward that aunt. "Aunt Esther" is a personal, domestic poem without international, political resonance, but its sense of time is geological, consistent with a 20th-21st century scientific perspective in all my work. [Read Jason Lee's commentary on "Aunt Esther"] [Back to "Reconciliation"]
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