by Kristi Walsh

My mother grips a baby-soft swaddled bundle, 
Pale blue, embroidered with smiling rabbits,
her head haloed by hairspray and nineties volume. 
My brother perches birdlike on my father’s shoulders:  
Skinny, cautious, curious.
This photo cannot ever exist:
The baby boy never lived outside my mother. 
I was born four months after that little boy was due, 
Making our timelines impossibly incompatible.
In our most recent family photograph,
They are all older: my mother grayer,
My father smiling with crinkly eyes,
My brother exuding confidence 
As only a twenty-three year old man can. 
But the biggest difference is me, a daughter, 
existing where the other boy does not (cannot) 
with my mother’s arm draped gently around my waist 
protective like a warm bed in cold wintertime. 
I asked her about him once:
He was a boy, she tells me. 
Named Daniel.
How could she know?  I ask.
I could just tell, she says.
I wonder if she would go back if she could
Save him, forgo the possibility of me.
People don’t question grieving mothers
Especially not their own.