A Poem by Judith Barrington
Author: Poetry Editor
July 19, 2016
This week, a poem by Judith Barrington.
WHAT’S A POET TO DO?
So many of them write about their grandmothers
and sometimes grandfathers too.
But mine were all dead—
the grandmother, nameless, in her black Victorian hat,
tartan blanket over her knees in a wheelchair
on a seafront somewhere (was she the one called Ada?).
An eccentric grandfather the only one ever mentioned:
Daniel with the bowler hat, the Esperanto translations
of Shakespeare, eccentricities spawning tall stories
as he swings his cane and takes a stroll before dinner.
What’s a poet to do? No fresh-baked-bread verses.
No special bond renewed through summer visits
idyllic as only a skipped generation portrays them—
wild incomprehensible love for the living proof
that parents once had their own parents—
were once even children themselves.
And now even those parents are dead
so how to write of the elders? Ancestors
moldering underground—just so many absences
refusing to pose in my poems, refusing
to pat me on the head (“my how you’ve grown!”)
and stay alive in their sepia clichés.
But there they are—a couple of them forever fixed
by triangular corners onto the thick black pages
of a leather-bound album. What’s a grandchild to do?
No-one wrote down the names or dates—No-one
recalls coerced visits, querulous complaints,
the brass ear trumpet in the nursing home,
nor even the surreptitious passing of coins
from age-spotted hand to sticky palm.
JUDITH BARRINGTON has published four poetry collections, most recently The Conversation and Horses and the Human Soul. Her memoir, Lifesaving, won a Lambda Literary Award. She was the winner of the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize for 2013. She teaches workshops in the USA, Britain, and Spain, and has been a faculty member of the MFA Program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her partner of 37 years.