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June 2, 2022

Sister Songs

When I knew them, they were old and
looked nothing like they look in the photos.
Nana and Wha,
my great grandmother and great great Aunt,
sisters, helpers, healers, sewsters, cleaners, cooks
hands always moving, hearts always open, steady,
ready to listen, reprimand, praise, hug.
When I knew them, their pasts cast long shadows
their futures almost none, high noon.

In the photos they are young, Mary and Margaret,
sisters, jaunty, flirtatious, lighthearted,
wearing sailor hats, twirling a parasole,
smiling, unlined faces,
unburdened yet by what was coming,
years of loss and sorrow
broken engagements, dead babies and husbands,
the great depression,
two world wars.
Do their smiles signal optimism and hope
as they anticipate tomorrow
and the many tomorrows to follow?
I want that to be their truth but
I’ll never know for sure.

Memory, my fickle companion, knows this –
those substantial women survived.
They thrived in this foreign country where
blending in made it easier to be Irish
and just being here made it easier to be Catholic.
My great grandmother, Mary.
My great, great Aunt Margaret.
Sisters. Women.
Forever in my earliest memories
of family and home.