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My sister was born March third. She's two years older. Most years our birthdays fall three days apart. She's tense this half week when I narrow the gap. The rest of the time she lets me come close only when she thinks I might pass her. In school she is learning to print, will practice for hours on wide-lined paper perfecting her J. It's the end of the time when I always know where to find her. I am struggling to keep up, getting the alphabet but not yet close to figuring out words. She holds her edge by how she can enthrall or confound me. She plants herself where I'll soon be looking. I spot her from the window of the bedroom we still share, where I am trying to align the alphabet with an old set of blocks. She's leaning twig across twig in the crown of a birch toppled that summer, a housing for the bird nest we had watched with binoculars. I go out to ask her, though I use other words, if initials vest when you learn how to read. "That's not when you get them," she says, "that's just when they turn into letters ." And then like turning a page she peels back the white bark, and on the dark trunk beneath carves J with the penknife she filched from the desk drawer, and because I already know what it looks like, teaches me my H.
how ripe the berries!
if they could look back at us
still white here inside
haiku reprinted from bottle rockets #17, 25 July 2007