“Aut Pax Aut Bellum,” “Three Sisters,” and “Quiet the Celebration”

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

Aut Pax Aut Bellum

Mother needles & threads her way into conversations,

as she does with everything,

                                                       tacking here

                                                       & there, piercing

the cotton weave of our family, her place secure.

Long ago she embroidered the Gunn clan motto

onto our lungs.

Aut pax aut bellum


My sisters & I lived out this interdependence

in the Jacksonville fairytale streets of Tom Thumb,

Snow White, Flopsy,

Mopsy, & CottonTail,

each lane twisted, a thread

                                                       in a grid.

                                                       In an adolescent

era of RC Colas, coin operated cigarette

machines, color TVs, missile strike drills,

and bomb shelters, hemmed in place,

we did as she said.


We kept peace.

We trained for war.

Three Sisters

In an old family Polaroid, three sisters

wore home-made crowns. The dated image

sends shivers spineward, fine hair

like compass needles, unwavering. Behind them:

kitchen wallpaper in stripes of goldenrod

yellow with fingernail-sized foil diamonds,

a white oven, single sink empty, draining

rack full. In the forefront, the girls’ pre-teen

faces predict their future in a timeless

deference; each gaze exits in a different

direction: one out a window, one out a marriage,

and one lingering behind the hand that pushed

open the camera lens. If we could sequence

the origination of each face: father’s ocean

eyes and grandmother’s nose; mother’s

milky skin coloring; uncle’s mouth; low-

lidded eyes the grandfather’s; mom’s pointed

chin; the family ears—all curb appeal

like paint, trim, and shutters which remind

the parents of that Jacksonville house when—,

the concrete block ranch in which—,


our Memphis apartment where—we lived

long before the girls were born. The sisters

all run

to warmer cities, shoes tied tight, laces triple

woven. A beginning that took decades

to end memorialized on a faded film square.

Quiet, the Celebration

No cake. No presents.

I invite no one else.

How can I explain a ceremony

for a failed plan? Parked alongside

the St. John’s river, I recall the hospital

rush, doctors’ expressions stalled

between blame and concern,

each face etched on my corneas

like war memorials on granite.

Now, no more days of bleached wards,

calendar boxes filled with meetings,

social workers bent on assisting. You

no longer are aware of the date,

that there is a counting—that I count

every extra year I am allowed with you.

So, each April, I hold a second celebration,

quietly, a joy-remembrance

of what was almost lost.

I cast a prayer

across the water and watch grey herons

stilt their way through reedy grass.

About the Author

Michele Parker Randall

Michele Parker Randall is the author of Museum of Everyday Life (Kelsay Books 2015) and A Future Unmappable, chapbook (Finishing Line Press 2021). Her work can be found in Nimrod International Journal, Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere.