Coin Toss


Her mother gave up the ghost at the edge of thirty years
in the street facing room of their matchbox apartment.

Her father turned it into liquor store. He was a man
too swift to be caught in a promise or be bound to rigid grief.

Magdalena slept in a tornado bedroom
no longer believing in his eggshell roof.

Not much can be expected of a shadow father
with a new, prickly-apron wife, and two useful sons.

Behind the liquor store there was a torn
chicken coop fence we’d climbed over

to sit on the docks and meet every train
like a clumsy first lover.

Her dress, thin as a dime and short as summer,
yanked the chain on the neck of every train yard worker.

I think of Magdalena every time I put on lipstick;
how I never thanked her for making me invisible,

her flesh and skin an armor about me
against the junkyard men’s thorny whistles,

and their oily, calloused hands
rolling the hems of her second skin

like dimes, dug out of thrift store couches,
never enough to buy anything.

At fourteen I did not understand
how cruel the coin toss can be:

I, the fish-thin and book-plain girl 
climbed over the fence all the way to America,

while pretty Magdalena lost two fingers
working at the weapons’ factory.


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