Excerpts from Sisters: An Anthology
From Daybreak by Joan Baez
I began to grow very fond of the bearded guru with the goat laugh. I felt he might have answers that no one else had. I asked him how I could learn to get along with my sister Mimi. She was twelve then, and very beautiful, and we fought all the time. Not in a big way, but by nasty little put-downs and ugly faces, and once in a while nail marks left in each other’s arms. It seemed so endless and unkind. Ira said to pretend that it was the last hour of her life, as he pointed out, it might well be. So I tried out his plan. Mimi reacted strangely at first, the way anyone does when a blueprint is switched on him without his being consulted. I learned to look at her, and as a result, to see her for the first time. I began to love her. The whole process took about one summer. It’s curious, but there is perhaps no one in the world as dear to me as Mimi. [p. xvii]
“The House Slave” by Rita Dove
The first horn lifts its arm over the dew-lit grass
and in the slave quarters there is a rustling —
children are bundled into aprons, cornbread
and water gourds grabbed, a salt pork breakfast taken.
I watch them driven into the vague before-dawn
while their mistress sleeps like an ivory toothpick
and Massa dreams of asses, rum and slave-funk.
I cannot fall asleep again. At the second horn,
the whip curls across the backs of the laggards —
sometimes my sister’s voice, unmistaken, among them.
“Oh! pray,” she cries. “Oh! pray!” Those days
I lie on my cot, shivering in the early heat,
and as the fields unfold to whiteness,
and they spill like bees among the fat flowers,
I weep. It is not yet daylight.
From “Twin Bed” by Ana Maria Jomolca
My sister, Lourdes Maria Travieso, was born on January 15th 1962 in Havana, Cuba, and six months later was smuggled into Miami disguised as a heat blanket. Batista had just recently been overthrown and the revolution had everyone distracted. Castro was just settling in and no one thought to question the need for a heat blanket in ninety-degree weather. Her fugitive beginning marked the baptism of a lifetime of irreverence and trailblazing.
The eldest of five, my sister was a natural born leader and recreational dictator. I was born four years and two siblings later than she and was immediately taken under her wing, her pet project. I had no idea this project would span the course of thirty-five years. [p. 112]
My apartment does not have a balcony. I do not tell her this. I do not tell her the Schermakatchewan Artist Housing Project is not the Schermakatchewan Artist Housing Project, but just the Schermakatchewan Housing Project and that while it aims to provide affordable housing for artists, it also targets two other markets: the formerly homeless and the mentally challenged. I do not tell her that the fitness room consists of one StairMaster, two geriatric stationary bicycles, and a weight scale donated by Metropolitan Hospital. I do not tell her the business center is actually called the computer room and is exactly that: the computer room. One computer for 230 residents. I do not tell her the doormen are “formerly incarcerated individuals” who failed the Doe Funds Ready, Willing & Able drug test and are now seeking a second, third, or twelfth chance. I do not tell my sister that the roof garden is a concrete terrace of gray, sandy cement with four folding chairs and a wicker Jade plant, or that the Community Banquet Hall is the basement space located next to the boiler room and will host Bingo on Mondays, Musical Show Tunes Karaoke on Wednesdays, Budgeting Your Food Stamps workshops on Thursdays, and cooking classes on Fridays.
I do tell her that my studio apartment is quite spacious and then remind her that I am a very small person, 4’11 and a half, 99.5 lbs, and that 240 square feet is a palace for me. I go on to say that the apartment has no closet in the traditional sense. “It’s more like a large cupboard, an extension of the kitchen cabinets, if you will.” I tell her I am approaching this whole experience as an exercise in minimalism, an exploration of wanting versus needing.
A heavy sigh comes through the telephone line. My cue to proceed. I remind her that I have been on countless writing residencies and artist retreats, both locally and internationally, and have discovered that I can (and do) live without many of the possessions I once swore were non-negotiable.
“I spent two months in New Zealand without shaving my legs,” I say. Silence. I tell her that I don’t mind the sink inside the bathtub, and that upon second thought I find it quite innovative and visionary. Futuristic even. Certainly very green.
“Humph,” I hear through the wire.
“Humph,” she repeats.
And so, I tell my sister, “I don’t even mind the twin bed—”
“Twin bed?” she gasps.
“Yes, twin bed,” I repeat, suddenly uncertain whether the bed is a twin, queen, king, or futon.
“Twin?!” she screeches.
“Yes. Twin!” I am now screeching too.
“Twin-size bed.” A statement. And then as though confirming the last four digits of my Social Security number or speaking to an overcrowded classroom of Chinese ESL students, she says, “Twiiinnn sssiiizzze bed?” I say nothing. It is a trap. She is wheezing or choking now. “Are you sure?”
“No,” I quickly reply and I am not lying. My sister has a way of making me doubt every thing I’ve done, every word I’ve spoken and every thought I’ve entertained throughout the entire course of my career on this earth as a chronically indecisive Libran with a propensity for catastrophizing everything from one unreturned phone call to falling short of the required stock of staples to get me through the next eighteen months. No matter how well I complete a task, there is always a far more efficient and effective way to approach it. Her way. I am always wrong. An atrasada mental. A cognitive mishap in constant relapse. I dig one knuckle deep into my eye socket. [pp. 116–118]