Kelly Renee Duckworth 04/05/65-04/27/89
Today is the 17th anniversary of my sister's death. She held George once, before we left the hospital where Georgia was born. It was the same hospital my sister had been in for a long time and would remain for a while longer before being transferred to Emory. She died at Emory three weeks later, as they failed to get her back into remission from Leukemia. She'd waited nine months for the baby to be born so she could have a bone marrow transplant. I was to be the donor. I was a perfect match.
Relationships are complicated. Seventeen years later, the irony seems more profound. George looks just like Kelly. It must be hard for my mother, loving me after I made the decision to go through with that pregnancy, and loving George, always the reminder. My mother and sister were best friends. When they had to, they could read each other's minds. I learned that near the end.
Whenever I hear the Lyle Lovett lyrics "If I had a boat, I'd go out on the ocean; if I had a pony, I'd ride 'im on my boat" I think of Kelly, who was a wisher--wild and excessive. My mother has that in her, too. It comes out in her garden, which is full of statuary--angels and gnomes, frogs and bunnies. She must have a hundred bird houses and feeders. There are flowers everywhere, real and plastic. She has painted window panes to hang on the picketts of her fence, and the floor of her deck is painted like a rug. She adds to these things all the time. I know it's her memorial.
The best way to honor my sister is to honor my mother today, and to say again how sorry I am.
So here's another poem from Karaoke Funeral, this one for my mom:
ON THE CANCER FLOOR
They’ve paralyzed my sister from the neck down
so she won’t fight the machine that racks breath
into her lungs, the tubes that fill her mouth and throat.
She sleeps, but Mother can’t leave the room
to hold my new baby or talk awhile. Mother
tries to explain, but I won’t be consoled. Our whispers
crack through the sterile halls. I tell her I’m worried,
that her life is a blanket folded at my sister’s feet.
What good does it do, I demand, for you to stay with her
day and night? And my sister’s eyes open, the way
my mouth is always opening to say something sharp,
and Mother, whose back is to my sister, turns
as if she’s been called, and her flat protests,
waiting among the ones I’ve popped and strewn,
fill and lift into the air.