Isabel Kestner

Wanting In On the Conversation

I shared a chair with my youngest cousin.  Both
of our bodies fit comfortably where only one
was meant to be.  She always smiled quickly
as though joy was instinctive in her.  Play
distracted her, lead her to the kitchen with all
the other women.  She was taken by the shine
and song of forks and spoons dancing in soapy clouds.

Quietly, I stayed behind to watch their words:  
Italian grandfather, uncles and oldest cousin 
(the first in the family to attend a university),
and my German father unfamiliar with the grand 
gesture and slightly shy of strong scented brandy, 
but well enticed by both.

In my outdated Easter lace or Christmas ribbon
or birthday bow, my eyes listened as arms and brows
broke into words, watched as old bones inside
wrinkled bundles youthfully expressed the theories
of light and air by becoming fire and current.
Even in brief moments of silence, their bodies
could not keep quiet.

I, like a mimic and a mine, sipped cheap grape soda 
as if it were wine, thinking, when I am old, like them,
 it will not taste so sweet.  I had not learned the word bitter yet.  
I did not know how the taste would change; I only knew it could,
and that it would.

I sat there in my silence, a statue of innocence
among agitated gods of endurance and conviction.
I wanted to speak; I wanted in on the conversation
as if existence itself was a verbal exchange, but  
I was too frail to convey the true meaning of 
politics, labor, God,  and country.  It took years 
of experience to turn those sounds into authentic words.  
My vocabulary was limited to my own meaning.  
My dictionary was just beginning. 

—Isabel Kestner

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