Wondering How She Came to Be There

She wasn’t looking
when they took this picture:
sitting on the grass
in her bare feet
wearing a cotton dress,
she stares off to the side
watching something on the lawn
the camera didn’t catch.
What was it?
A ladybug? A flower?
Judging from her expression,
possibly nothing at all,
or else
the lawn was like a mirror,
and she sat watching herself,
wondering who she was
and how she came to be there
sitting in this backyard,
wearing a cheap, white dress,
imagining that tomorrow
would be like all her yesterdays,
while her parents chatted
and watched, as I do
years later,
too distantly to interfere.
~Dana Gioia, “Photograph of My Mother as a Young Girl” from Daily Horoscope

Yesterday was my mother Elna Schmitz Polis’ 102nd birthday though she left us behind nearly 14 years ago. I wrote the poem below while she was fading from this life.

Vigil at my mother’s bedside

Lying still, your mouth gapes open as
I wonder if you breathe your last.
Your hair a white cloud
Your skin baby soft
No washing, digging, planting gardens
Or raising children

Where do your dreams take you?
At times you wake in your childhood home of
Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom.
Other naps take you to your student and teaching days
Grammar and drama, speech and essays.
Yesterday you were a young mother again
Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.

Today you looked about your empty nest
Disguised as hospital bed,
Wondering aloud about
Children grown, flown.
You still control through worry
and tell me:
Travel safely
Get a good night’s sleep
Take time to eat
Call me when you get there

I dress you as you dressed me
I clean you as you cleaned me
I love you as you loved me
You try my patience as I tried yours.
I wonder if I have the strength to
Mother my mother
For as long as she needs.

When I tell you the truth
Your brow furrows as it used to do
When I disappointed you~
This cannot be
A bed in a room in a sterile place
Waiting for death
Waiting for heaven

And I tell you:
Travel safely
Eat, please eat
Sleep well
Call me when you get there.

Dad and Mom in their early thirties
Mom’s favorite song to sing

Make a one-time or recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is deeply appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

2 thoughts on “Wondering How She Came to Be There

  1. Difficult as it may be at times, it is crucial that we look back on what came before — relationships,
    familiar sights and life events and, yes, even the unhappy times that strengthened us within, giving us the needed ‘spine’ and resolve to ‘carry on,’ regardless of the obstructions and inevitable difficult
    A Personal Aside, following Emily’s germane comments about a beloved, admired matriarch:
    (When I viewed my fiercely-loved grandma at her bedside of pain as she gently, slid into death and
    her ‘homecoming’ to eternity, there was one vision that appeared so clearly before my eyes:
    It was the ‘beauty’ of her worn aged hands – protruding veins, with deeply furrowed wrinkles….
    What I saw (and wept softly with the memories) was the loving, giving work of a lifetime, borne unselfishly for others – even those outside of her immediate family – ill neighbors, motherless children, hobos….the thousands of meals prepared, sometimes with just scraps of leftover
    meat; the incessant mounds of clothes, washed on Monday in an ancient wringer washer and dried inside in the basement or carried outside to a clothesline on a gentle Spring or Summer day. I remember her gentle, knowing touching our foreheads to check on temperatures when we were sick and the camphor oil -saturated wool cloth placed on our chests to dislodge any phlegm rattling around in our lungs (to ward off pneumonia)….and soooo much more.)

    I miss you so, Grandma, and I long to be with you….)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.