Black Friday

By: Beth Derr

Smith College, Massachusetts, USA

Grandmother. We, your oldest and youngest
granddaughters (two of twenty)
make our pilgrimage to your ashes
this rainy day after subdued Thanksgiving
to break our ten-year silence.

Forgive our wandering path toward you;
the roads in this cemetery caress the hills,
but you rest in a valley, we think.
We fan out and read the names of the dead
until my boots, wet with morning rain,
face your plain square headstone.

We clear the lichen from your name;
we set the record straight.
Your stone will be the most pristine,
most recently loved,
despite no flowers withering there –
we know you wouldn’t want them.

“How hard it was to live,” my cousin says
while scraping a twig against stone.
You lost the love of your life in a boxing match
married my grandfather within six months
then lost him to the Spanish flu.

Seventeen years and six children
four still here and stubborn as ever
two lost early and buried up the hill.
We cleaned their stone too, Grandmother.

We place two smooth acorns atop your shared grave
and clear the shards that the squirrels have left.
Did you live so nobly only to be a perch, Grandmother?
Outlasting your husband by forty years
governing children and property
Did his death set you free, or drown you?

We have cleaned your tomb, Grandmother.
We have taken our pictures
and though we never met
I feel you would be proud –
I wear a Smith hat, just like you.