Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

My Older Sister Ate Bones

My Older Sister Ate Bones

Susan Firer

Always then pots of marrow bones cooking
on the red swirl burners, the kitchen
air damp with the boiling steam of bones.

She would suck & chew the gritty, transparent,
like empty-butter-soaked-popcorn-brown bag
marrow. She'd easily eat over a dozen a day,
then drink the water they cooked in.

Soup she called it. Once
the butcher asked, “Hows many dogs
you got, anyways?" We took our
shopping over to the Jewel supermarket,
where no one counted.

She never woke before noon. She brewed
her A&P ground coffee in her bathroom.
Then she came downstairs & started in on
her bones. She seemed to have a tongue

of a different species, possibly aardvark,
maybe crocodile. I do not think one is born
a bone eater. I think one trains for it,
like for the butterfly stroke.

She kept a kitchen shelf for her favorite
dried bones. One had the profile of Alfred
Hitchcock; one was the shape of Italy.

After heavy carrot consumption turned
her hands & face a bright nicotine orange,
we thought she'd learn moderation. HA.
She switched to the creamy colored bones.

Once I had dinner with an actual Colonel.
After dinner, in the candlelight,
after each fresh drink,
he dropped another piece of clothing

in order to show me his war
scarred body. He gave each
newly exposed scar a war:

He called his leg scar World War II,
the scoliosis pink curved scar on his
back Korea. By midnight he was showing me
the cursive on his butt, mapping it Vietnam.

The bone eater would stick out her tongue,
document each pull & tear: round
steak, rump roast, crown roast,

Me, I was born the baby of the family.
“You remember our baby," was the always
introduction. I dressed in yellow
bathing suits & ate purple Popsicles.

How difficult to be
a girl in a yellow bathing suit
in a house of bones.
As soon as I was

old enough, I bought a ticket.
In the diesely, fumy air, the royal-
blue-running-neon Greyhound
looked like he couldn't be

stopped. I dreamt
a manatee future, ornate
as old gas pumps red & white
glass crowns.

The shortest distance between 2
points is the family.
When they called, I returned.
That was the last time

I saw the bone eater in action.
I didn't know it then. She did.
In her trailing interstellar dust,
I ask:

How does one become
the oldest, when one is raised
the baby? Could someone help here?
Do all elders have to eat bones?

How many?
Is it a rule?
Is it written down

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter 1996), pp. 60-62


Susan Firer’s most recent book is Milwaukee Does Strange Things to People: New & Selected Poems 1979-2007. Her previous books have been awarded the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize, the Posner Award, and the Backwaters Prize. Her poem “Call Me Pier” was included in the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Everywhere series and is available for viewing on YouTube and the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Everywhere website. She edits the Shepherd Express online poetry column.

Susan Firer