when i was a little girl

allowed to roam

through the backrooms of

the house shared by my great aunts

ancient

spinster sisters

jo ann and mary alys

whose  Bates brothers all passed before

i didn’t mind the obligatory visits

imposed by my mother and sister so much

.

finding photographs of glory faded

antique wash basins and ceramic kittens

delicate baubles in satin boxes

fine dresses who had given up on finding love

bobby pins on china saucers atop

a vanity avoided because no one wanted to see

what it had to show

.

until i was five i thought jo ann

was a man

an old farmer in mens clothes

who smoked constantly

cut her hair short

and squatted like our indian ancestors

talking of her land

loyals dogs

sturdy tractors

whose barn had burned

tidbits you orta know

a lesbian of a time one didn’t acknowledge

such things

baptist blasphemy running through

her country bones

.

mary alys

the once beautiful bride

whose wealthy husband cecil had died

leaving her childless

grieving

though she seemed content

to remain married to his ghost

so feminine she was

pin curls

perfectly filed long

nicotine yellow nails

too many rings

a  forked tongued

wicked gossip

oral histories

slim pointy nose

judging everyone whilst wearing

pink polyester and

knee high panty hose

.

two women were never more different

yet to me

they were symbiotic halves

of a singular tale of  family woe

.

jo ann on her side of the sitting room

reading the paper

and mary alys

applying ponds cold cream to her face

and lotion to her transparent

blue veined soft hands

claiming she intended to make

a pretty corpse

.

jo ann went first

ate up with cancer

mary alys died later

of meaness

i suppose