Mathias Svalina & Julia Cohen

*

TWO SISTERS

*

If she can jump from one floating umbrella to the next, the
larger sister can find a new face to kiss in the ocean’s chop.
If she can keep the knife from falling into the sea she may
remember her father’s face. It was always stretched over
the fire like soaked skin. The sisters call this the dangling
game.

*

The sky rusts in dark lines. Bricks stack atop the waves like
seahorses the scientists will never discover. Fish eggs gel to
their hair like lice. No one will ever look at anyone else
again.

*

The two sisters read all the great books & perform them in
the bruised sea air, aflutter with the quickest promise
home. Beneath their masks they hide the hither-thither
stagger of the doomsday’s lace. Like a statue in the
fountain, embarrassed of its own stillness & water that is
not its own they can’t remember where home is. They
remember a few stone walls, wooden toys, & a dusty plant.
Will all the lights be on? Does anyone sleep anymore? Are
there scientists in the fields like scarecrows?

*

Their father welded the castle when he lost his words. The
sisters had the castle to themselves. They never entered
their father’s study. They discovered the annex for the
metal tricycle in the basement of the castle. On the day the
walls opened like knifewounds the sisters peddled away
from the scientists.

*

The smaller sister runs out of hands to hold the ropes. The
sail curls around a clump of black hair. She holds the wet
lip of the boat with fingers of dried roots. Nothing ever
dried in her father’s furnace, so her combed-back hair is as
slick as a newborn.

*

The larger sister reads the dedications in every book. Like
prayer, she folds up. A saffroned palm & the scent of
kerosene. One sister holds her hand to the other sister’s
throat & feels her pulse. The water fans out from the boat.
Sunlight’s breastless scrub stains the sea into dusk. And
then it is morning again. Night, morning, day, the dim
frontier.

*

A brick bed, brick pillows, & the hands two sisters slept
on. The smaller sister sees everything from the floor to the
waist. She knows there is a black leather satchel that
contains all the maps of the stars. She knows the mast
leaves splinters in your fingers. She knows the scientists
don’t wear belts.

*

Swimmers surface with their faces toward the sky. Spiders
dangle from their earlobes. Hi. Hello. They say, hold onto
my shoulders & we’ll scissor to your store. The sisters pack
pieces of the endless sea & warm winds & russet bark &
store them with their traveling clothes. There are fake
roses with wired stems twisted into their hair. There are
fake spiders building fake webs between the fake petals of
the roses. There is a place to hide in the fog.

*

They arrive at the dock. It looks like grey soap. This land is
losing its words. The people have necklaces of pictures
that they shuffle through in order to communicate. The
sisters walk into the city to find the man who paints the
pictures. They go to the store for groceries. But the store is
no longer there.

*

Sitting on the chapel steps, the man who paints the
pictures braids the pictures together for a bed sheet. When
he sleeps the pictures tell each other how they met. They
become families, winding themselves into linen.

*

At the temple of pictures the larger sister taps dried
crowlegs into his pipe & he places five coins on the stone
before her. She points toward the shiniest coin & he
shakes his head no. She points toward the faceless coin
worn smooth by thumbs & he takes her hand & leads her
to the door of bones. She jams the coin in the keyhole &
the bone springs open.

*

The larger sister sees the pictures from the waist up. She
sees the scientists holding the chains above their heads.
The manacles. The beakers. The larger sister knows the
ash in the beaker didn’t come from a fire.

*

The scientists breed soot from ground bullets. The cloth
draped over the birdcage covers three clocks & an old
valentine. The smaller sister keeps the dove in her pocket.
She feeds it marbles & candy. The other sister waits inside
a little salt shaker. Call it a boat. Call it docked, to mean
both waiting for a sibling & ready to escape. Three pink
flags hang from the rosebush. Beneath the anchor, baby
crickets crush into broken strings. Everything can be
ground into powder.

*

Bubbles of lead form a tie around the scientists’ throats. A
wheel of hair dipped in mud tells a story of coins &
wrongdoings. A wig for the masthead. Or a tricycle
steamrolled into a hanging mobile. When the scientists
open their mouths, black oil leaks out.

*

The smaller sister approaches the window & sees the larger
sister bound naked to the bed of nails. The scientists have
left. The lights are off. There is a cricket sound coming
from the larger sister.

*

Six branches fall from the cypress & ants crawl out. The
water washes the sisters’ dresses brighter than before the
rust held them in an angry embrace. Sounds return in
duplicate, one tripping over the other like branches in a
storm. One sister closes her eyes & when she opens them
the other sister is twisting staples out of the planks. She is
a moth, gargling dust & eggs. If they gather themselves
into a handful of sounds then their trail is lost. Cut
through the bushes & into the cave they stand blinking
among the rustles of dark. The sounds of metal cooling.
The sounds of claws clicking. Scientists click their glass
beakers against one another & begin to step silently into
the mouths of their prey. One boot for each row of girl-
teeth.

*

The cave is a large jaw packed with dirt & stethoscopes.
Science wants to claim a surgery, a law to tunnel through
the cheek. Sisters scrub in a sink of white sand until their
hands are pink. The bats swing slightly from the cave’s
roof. What one sister sees as science the other sister holds
below the sole of her shoe. Blades of grass, long since
dead, begin to slither in the dirt. The cave ends when it
charges on wooden hooves to the dark spots in the water.
Bunsen burners float like junkets. Grab on, burn, float, the
sisters say. They could drink water forever near the edge of
the river-grass revival.

*

Like salt into brine. When one sister holds a clean hand up
to the light the other says ‘that’s my hand.” Broken glass
sounds from a chorus. Flies circle the mound of sleeping
scientists. Woodpeckers racket the dawn & distant
tugboats moan. One sister lifts a plank from the boat floor
& finds the machine that monitors all that the sisters drop
from their hair. They build a rowboat out of ice & for oars
they use needles.

*

One sister drinks handfuls of water & the other sister
chokes. The shore smells of tires & chlorine. Little furry
things emerge from the buds. The glands. The writs
flinging down. The dark can be wet or dry. The two sisters
turn the rowboat over and crawl inside its echoes. They
find a wet book that smells boggy. The wet pages stick to
their skin & will not come off. The youngest pinches clay
& pouches. A trumpet on the docks plays the song of
returning to the sea.

*

Once sated with grief they leave in the brick boat. One
sister recognizes the white lab coats lining the dock. She
ties a cat’s paw to the mast & taps her fingers to her
tongue. Three fish leap into the boat & melt into a puddle
of silver.

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