What can I say of women in my family, their hoarse calls and their dishrags? Their backs straightened against the great room’s grate, the old yard willow burning. It had seen all of us naked. It cracked in the fire, expected no rescue. White smoke collected on our temples like run-off fiancés.

A girl from a good family is always cold, they said. An oak never sweats. The azalea only comes to grief.

Ashes coated my grandmother’s teeth. She birthed seven children, hips as thin as a man’s. My aunts—long white curtains are all I can picture, dust at the hems. Growing out of the floor or back into it. My mother, a potted vine, tendrils blurry in the window from outside.

Virginia McLure