The Sister Shell

The umbrella on the sidewalk shades
a makeshift bed of mismatched linen
and pillowcases stuffed with torn dresses.
Together they form an oyster,
freshly cracked, propped open
so that passersby may peek in
at pearls or buttons, and ribbons
that the girls tugged from dolls’ heads
and abandoned. Each day, the same
small parade of raspberry rain boots
plods along the dry cement until
the girls find the octopus-shaped crack
and know they’ve stopped somewhere sacred.

An array of toy soldiers, pink paper, and pens
is tossed to the ground as the girls build
their shell and prepare to nest, like gulls
making use of their meal’s remnants.
The den is so small that the two barely fit,
but they still make trips home, returning
with foil crowns, spare outfits, and oily paint sets.
Soon the shell cannot contain them, and their wet
masterpieces of mermaids and lopsided houses
spill onto the street’s surface where the redhead
from #13 with black eyes and boyish hips
will find the images while walking her dog
and hang them on her blank-faced fridge.

In the shell the girls have learned to kill
spiders, and to kiss – to spy on the world,
and to dress themselves in self-reliance.
As the sky sinks to the color of a shark’s tarnished fin
the girls head in, dragging masses of cotton
and paint-heavy pages. Often they forget
to bring the umbrella with them;
the shade that it casts bleeding into the darkness.
The next morning they always find it
in a bush, on a lawn, or in its place by the octopus.
Again the girls huddle close, the shell shielding their faces,
and their hungry hands work fat sticks of white chalk
to press secrets into pavement.