I wrote this poem ten years ago, and just recently rediscovered it. It’s a poem about beauty (and my Great Aunt Thelma). I visited her in Wisconsin and was enraptured for the entire visit. It was the only time I spent with her as an adult, and it was also the last. Shortly after that I moved to Montana and she died soon after.
Addendum on September 29th: So I felt kind of goofy posting this a couple weeks ago. I don’t usually post my own poetry. But it turns out that Goodreads.com selected this poem as a finalist in its October poetry contest…. and I feel a little less goofy now. 🙂
If you’re a member of Goodreads, click on this link to vote for my poem:
One commentator wrote this: “all the poems seemed to be sad or filled with some kind of anger. An American Beauty was full of joy and memories. i loved it.”
OK. That’s enough tooting my own horn. Here’s the poem.
AN AMERICAN BEAUTY
What you notice first is how small and hunched over she is.
A big hump rises up between her shoulders, and
her head parallels the ground.
Yet her neck and carriage are strong as she peers up,
not missing a thing.
Her mouth forms a natural grin,
a grin she has generously shared with
the world for 93 years.
The grin subsides when she’s focused on you.
That’s when her twinkling eyes stare intently
and her lips purse together,
Her hair is what you notice next
long red hair that’s now mostly white.
A deep, rich color that’s not ephemeral
and can’t be dismissed.
I gaze enraptured as she braids it every morning
using 2 long hair pins to keep it in place.
When she’s done braiding
she casually flips it over her shoulder
like a young school girl,
immune to her own beauty.
When she walks, she scurries,
quick, solid, and strong on her feet.
She has a walker she scarcely uses.
She holds it up in front of her as she firmly moves
forward, all 93 years of her, moving out.
Her legs are strong, determined.
I long to touch them.
I spend the first day wanting to explain her—
create my own story on why she never married.
“She’s secretly gay.”
“She was unattractive and gawky.”
“She loved and was burned.”
None seem to fit.
I give up explaining and enjoy her.
If there’s a story it’s this one:
She was so open-hearted and bursting with pure joy
that no man could contain her in 1924.
People like her.
They say, “You’re doing all right, Thelma”
and ask her how she stays so pleasant.
Everyone knows her, or perhaps I should say
she knows everyone.
All day long I’m introduced to all within range,
as we gallivant around this small Wisconsin town
where she’s lived her whole life.
She talks, not noticing when people
are rude or too busy.
She continues on, asking questions, conversing.
“Can you imagine that?” she’ll say to me.
Or she’ll tell me to look at the birds…
for the fifth time.
“I wonder why that one has a red beak?”
I soak in her light-hearted wonder, and
feel the joy of being alive and happy with the world.
I want more of her.
“Wonderful you,” she says, ending every encounter
with, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I want to touch her, hold her.
I want to breathe her in.
I want to swallow her.
When we watched the Grammy awards
I sat 3 hours at her feet.
I couldn’t sit in my own chair.
I couldn’t sit close enough.
She was jump-center on her high school
basketball team, 1920 to 1924
Maybe basketball is the key
to open-hearted joy and powerful beauty
at the age of 93.