Five

Even at five I still hardly knew you.
But I knew you were my mommy's mommy
Because she had your eyes:
Summer leaves and emeralds –
A color crushed in winter's claws,
But resurrected with the flowers.
I could only count to twenty then,
On stubby, nail-bitten fingers.
But that was far more than I needed
To name all the times I'd seen you.
Even so, every time we came,
In your white-washed box,
With that dog-bite, stinging, cleaning smell,
Your scent was safety and sunshine.
You smiled, "How is my little bird today?"

Even at five, I could tell you were fragile,
More the little bird than me –
Hollow bones and paper skin:
Pale like God had dumped snow in all the crayons.
When you moved your head to smile at me,
Your halo-hair drifted –
Loose feathers on your pillow.

Even at five, I knew that if you lost your feathers
You couldn't fly away.
Instead, you faded bit by bit.
Your lips grew thinner, smiled less.
The wind that ripped your feathers fogged your eyes.
Until there was a day –
One more than I could count –
When you smiled at mommy
But smiled through me.
The sun hid,
and I felt the bees behind my eyes.
Your smile was candy-wrapper thin;
Sticky-sweet like the chocolate had melted around your mouth.
You said to mommy, "And who is this little one?"

Even at five, I realized you didn't see your little bird in me.
And never would again.