Great Grandma in her black-taffeta bathing suit
waded in the Atlantic Ocean,
before storms toppled houses,
before sand washed into the marsh
and sent herons flying.
One summer I lived in a beach house,
struggled to swim. I wanted to wear long hair
knotted in braids. I wanted to float on the waves.
Buongiorno, I said. Then sat with Great Grandma
and her friends.
She knows more English than I know
Italian, I thought.
When she looked sad, Mom translated.
She’s missing her cousins and those
she midwifed into the world, Mom said.
Great Grandma and I gathered sand dollars
and other beach treasures, lost now like her stories.
I wish I knew why she had a cross, blued on her arm,
and why she burned it off.
I do know she arrived at the Port of Boston in 1913,
with her thin sons. They learned English,
but she didn’t. She expected to die young,
heartsick for home.
MaryEllen Letarte, founder and director of the Louise Bogan Chapter of the Massachusetts State Poetry Society writes stories and poems. Her work has appeared online and in print publications such as Friends Journal, Verse Wisconsin, and Silver Boomer Books and Pitkin Review. She’s thankful for having found a writing group and sharing poetry with her granddaughters.
Poet’s statement: Reading favorite poems triggers a memory, a story, or an observation that seeds my lines. After writing a couple of prose pages, I chip at the paragraphs and find stanzas. I may revise the poem many more times after that except in the rare instance when a poem seems to spring from inside of me almost whole.