Mother taught us ballet by forcing our feet
into confining toe-shoes and cracking whips
around juvenile spirits,
as if we’d somersaulted from the womb
to dance by instinct on color-coded foot charts.
We learned to prepare for disasters, build
fallout shelters while she bombarded us
with moods as minacious as Hiroshima.
We practiced self-preservation before we could write our names:
every morning we’d sharpen saber and wit on each others whet-bones,
dig moats around our hearts and stock them with piranhas.
Writing her love into a contract comprised
of double-talk and foreign parlance, she finessed
the fine point scrawled in Cyrillic symbols
across the bottom of a page too dark to decipher
and signed it in blood.
Everything was transitory,
conditional and subject to repossession.
Even our umbilical cords had been tied with slipknots.