The Old Woman and the Little Girl
It hurt to look at the wreck of her—
legs dangling from a wheelchair,
torqued back listing,
brain, lungs, tongue mostly mute.
Gullet sphincter too tight for meat,
the other too loose.
Yet when family came to visit,
my mother’s smile lit the room.
And, somehow, she made it clear
who she wanted to sit by—
her great-granddaughter, Ella.
Who wouldn’t want to sit beside
those bright eyes and munchkin voice? Ella,
from zero to four—a respite
from the pains of age, a trip
to the land of lambs and princesses.
I often worried—
was she scared sitting next to
this wordless, withered crone
whose very body sent
a dark message?
A few years later, when I ask Ella
if she remembers her great-grandparents,
she looks at the floor, and says,
in a voice lined with tears—
I remember Grandma.
It starts with a box—
a quilted box—
that sat, for years, on a shelf in the front hall closet
in my parents’ house
holding a white cashmere scarf, white knit hat,
thick mittens and gloves.
Frayed but still shielding from insects and dust,
the box reminds me how my mother wrapped us
in soft words, with gentle fingertips—
but, at the slightest scent of danger,
grew fierce claws.
My sister-in-law earmarks the box,
and its contents, for trash
now that my parents are gone.
I take home the white scarf and hat.
When my mother wore them, she looked
like an angel.
I could not save her
from the blizzard’s mounting snow.
Jacqueline Coleman-Fried is a poet and essayist living in Tuckahoe, NY. She has taken a weekly poetry workshop at The Writing Institute of Sarah Lawrence College for the past three years. Her work has been published in Home Planet New Online, The Voices Project Poetry Library, Art Times Journal, and The Orchards Poetry Journal. Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality and the Arts, plans to publish another of her poems in October 2021.