There was a story the night that Father packed
that Father told the sisters, dark and fair:
if they were very bad and a wind crossed
the moon when they were bad
it cast a spell.
This simply forced them to be very bad
and keep their eyes open.
First they ate: chocolates and dumplings,
plum cake, raisin cake, sugar and spice
cookies, plain cookies, unnamed pies,
until the Fair One sighed,
“I’m nothing but a Big Food.”
The Dark One sighed. It was the last sigh
of content. It was the sound
a balloon makes, letting out.
They were both round in fact, in fact
the neighbor children mistook them for balloons,
or else were being vicious. They took sticks
and rolled them up and down hills.
“Ouch!” the Dark One cried, uncomfortably.
The girls were not popular.
This made them sad. And being very sad
they got thin. “If we don’t eat,” they said,
and nodded wisely to each other.
“Eat! Eat!” their nursemaid shrieked
as if for her own life.
No use, they could have told her.
Their friends, the neighbor children, began to miss them.
They missed seeing them around the old neighborhood,
although the girls were there.
This was not much better,
having one’s toes stepped on.
This would not do, the Fair One said.
It was a time to run away; I could not say
who said it first.
They had to pack. They had to sit
on the suitcase, it was so fat
but they were weak and thin.
This would not do—even two
pencils cannot carry
a suitcase over the world.
The only ones who do not have to pack
So they went to see the witch
who lived at the edge of the neighborhood.
She stuck her crooked face out the door
and sniffed: “Shoo! Shoo!”
They echoed this and circled on their toes
to a count of ten.
The Fair One heard the dark
sister’s voice get hoarse.
“You’ve caught cold,” she warned, but her own words
snuffled and woofed in her throat.
The night rose around them like a flower. . .
their noses knew
what they had never known.
The Dark Girl felt her thighs start
as if the moon pulled at them for music.
She leapt. The night light flared
in the pale hairs of her flank.
“You’re beautiful!” the Fair One told the Dark.
And she saw she was too.
How they trampled the neighborhood!
The crushed grass under their paws
released its wild, sweet smells.
Their tails flattened a wake in the matted kudzu.
The wind nuzzled them in fields of fur.
Back and forth the tree frogs swung on their hinge
as if the night were a porch to a deeper night.
If only they had run away with dawn!
If only Mrs. Brown
had not put down her coffee cup
and Mr. Brown the news
and stared like children from the kitchen window
at their clothesline and the underwear in trees
and called the man who waved his silly net.
What Father said, I think, need not be said;
long ago the girls had wisely learned
when to keep out of his way. But it is said
that he takes Mother to the zoo on Sundays
with the new children. Mother says, “Now dear,”
when Father loses his hat to the blowaway wind
and the babies chase it shrieking down the hill.
Father tries to be good. He stands at the cage
watching the marsupials and murmurs,
“I wonder.” If the girls know how to get home
they’re not saying or they haven’t tried
or else they’ve tried.
Their best friends are the Chinese bears next door;
they share brown chips from a bag labelled Omnivore.