Nuclear Family Triptych


Each night, Caleb’s family prayed over dinner.
Father at the head of the table, mother to the left,
brothers across from each other, me tacked on.
An effortless choreography, we reached for each other
and cupped palms, hovered hands midair,
Caleb giving mine a light squeeze before his mother
passed around the leftovers, spooned jam onto a biscuit.


During the babysitting gigs at the pristine home
with an honest to god picket fence and gate,
I would perch at the kitchen island with textbooks
and my laptop, glancing at the monitor,
busy with homework late into the night.
In my memory, the handsome father stands
across from me. Or he is leaning, on elbows.
More important is his wife entering the room,
looking at him, then at me, then back at him.


My professors had collapsed into friends,
permissible but still thrilling. The first time
they asked me to stay late, to have a beer,
the bottle was cold and I peeled off the label.
They moved to the mountains and invited me to visit,
the pleasure of gossip, pasta, strong cocktails.
When I arrived, he pulled hot sheets from the dryer,
led me to the guest room. We each took a corner,
guided the linen as it floated down to the mattress.


Paige Sullivan completed her M.F.A. at Georgia State University, where she served as an assistant editor and poetry editor of Five Points and New South, respectively. She has received support from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, the Tin House Winter Workshop, and the Poetry Foundation ‘s Poetry Incubator. In addition to essays and reviews, her poetry has appeared in Arts & Letters, Ninth Letter, American Literary Review, Tampa Review, and other journals. She lives and works in Atlanta.