Matriarch

By Krista Halverson

This summer Aunt Claire takes me driving
from Prineville
to the Columbia; we can see Washington from its
bank. I use the rest-stop "ladies"
after her, see the Preamble

in her languid scroll on the door of the stall. We the Women
of the United States…
Riverside, our buttocks leave prints like ripe avocados
in the cold mud. We talk, and later,
in her car, I sit on a towel but she

takes her pants off, drives past the station
and waves at the ranger in her panties.
I ask why she never had children. She says,
we don't any of us know our own bodies.
I throw my pants in the back seat. In the motel we fall asleep

to the Discovery Channel. She says it has that effect
on her. I wake up to hysterical laughing-2 a.m. animal
laughter that sounds like retching. The narrator's
sterile voice:
With hyenas, it is females

that preside. The birth of daughters
is an event, and twins—when such a thing occurs--come slick
with strong, dense limbs.
Awash in testosterone, they literally
come out fighting.

Claire is gaping in her sleep. Her mouth is soft red-rimmed,
the rest invisible. The sounds from her soft, open mouth
are what have awakened me after all. Well, then, the wilderness
may be in our blood, she would say.

Claire is the oldest---thirty-nine and unmarried. Claire says
my grandmother, her speckled eyes
bright as salmon backs, bore her daughters early,
and that she was lucky. The next morning, she brings me
the continental
breakfast: M&Ms from the vending machine. We are gone
before the wake-up call.