Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt didn’t work for me (nothing personal, y’all). And what is it about prompts, that they always seem to lead us writers to…what? An idea? A voice? A cohering of disparate pieces that until then had just tumbled around in a jumbled mess? Anyway, I looked back at the prompts I’ve missed, and found a thread to follow through the Byzantine mind common to writers.
This poem is deeply indebted to Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” one of my favourite poems, by one of my best beloved poets. While the prompt asked us to take one line from a story, I found myself borrowing both a fragment of a line, and some of Auden’s magic to write about my ‘old ladies,’ my grandmother and her sister, all my great-aunts. I grew up in a matriarchy of sorts, and the influence of those amazing women still reverberates down our family line. Here you go:
~ with gratitude to Auden
They were never wrong, my old ladies.
They understood that love & suffering
go hand in hand, for blue-hairs, blondes,
the tightly permed and the carefully straightened.
How, when we are least prepared, the ground
shifts beneath feet once firmly planted. How
trust can rust, truth turn to ash, and all we knew
escape us. They never forgot, even when
skin once clear as porcelain cracked with fissures
and age wrote letters of loss and grief upon
In each unremarked life, how we turned away
from their mirrored mortality. Perhaps it is
an unimportant failure; we are still abandoned by
their long-since passing. What could they give
us now, forsaken by their deaths? Only the amazing
recognition of their knowledge, how they too
drowned in love’s green water. Sinking beneath
its calm surface, as we do now. Still.