Heirloom

My great grandmother’s native
American eyes stare back
At me from a tintype.
She kneels in her garden,
“The most dedicated Christian
I ever knew,” my grandfather said
Of her, this ancestor who left
The reservation, her people to marry
The circuit rider, how often did she
Sit in a pew among white people
With that same careful lack
Of a smile, a woman
Who even at eighty had
To keep her long hair tightly
Bound among flowers, I remember
Once I walked with a boy
Through sunset down a Swiss Alp
We had climbed.
We ate wild berries.
They stained our mouths and
What did the woman who
Now stares back at her
Great-granddaughter feel as
She walked, dark hair swaying
To meet the preacher,
How many children, how many
Stony-eyed silences from the congregation
Before her face closed down.
And this woman too
Become the best
Wife, Christian mother
Her son would forever wish
To know . . .

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Photo by Keith Berry