As my sister was dying — 
lung cancer, stage IV, metastasized —
we celebrated her birthday with helium balloons.
Red, blue and green. A few pink ones thrown in, 
my father being the one who went 
to the party store to buy them.

Afterwards, no one could bring themselves to throw them away, 
so we just got used to dodging the dangling strings 
and, as the helium lost its magic, head-bumping 
the slowly falling ones.

My sister would sit in her recliner, wig off, glaring at the balloons,
waiting for the end to come —just a few days later 
she fell into a merciful deep sleep 
from which she didn’t awaken. She was 44.

By now the balloons were on the floor, 
skipping across the Berber, puckered at the knot. 
Their skin gave to the knife tip, but still they popped — 
oh, how they popped.