On the Vanishing of My Sister, Aged 3, 1965

They saw her last in our garden of stones and willows.
A few bright twigs and pebbles glazed with rain
and, here and there, amidst the dirt and gravel,
a slick of leaf and milkstone, beautiful
for one long moment in the changing light.
Then she was gone.
My mother had looked away
for a matter of seconds
– she said this, over and over,
as if its logic could undo
the wildness of a universe that stayed
predictable for years, then carried off
a youngest daughter;
my father was in the room at the back of our prefab,
watching the new TV, the announcer
excited, Gold Cup Day
and Arkle romping home by twenty lengths.
Maybe we have to look back, to see
that we have all the makings of bliss – the first spring light,
the trees along the farm road
thick with song;
and surely it was this
that drew her out
to walk into the big
wide world, astonished, suddenly at home
no matter where she was.
It seems, when they found her,
she wasn’t the least bit scared.
An hour passed, then another;
my mother waited, while our friends and neighbours
came and went, my father running out
to search, then back again,
taking her, once, in his arms, and trying
vainly to reassure her,
she in her apron,
dusted with icing and flour,
and he too self-contained, too rudely male,
more awkward, now, than when he knew her first:
a marriage come between them, all those years
of good intent
and blithe misunderstanding.
It was Tom Dow who brought her home,
tears in his eyes, the boy we had always known
as the local bully, suddenly finding himself
and when they brought her in
and sat her down,
we gathered to stand
in the light of her, life and death
inscribed in the blue of her eyes, and the sweet
confusion of rescue, never having been
She’s married now, and Tom is married too,
and I, like my father, strayed into
not being what was wanted, strange to myself
and wishing, all the time,
that I was lost,
out at the end of winter, turning away
to where the dark begins, far in the trees,
darkness and recent cold and the sense of another
far in the trees, where no one pretends
I belong.

From All One Breath. Reproduced with kind permission from Cape Poetry.