An Old Woman Says to Her Son

by Emily Wilmer

for Marti

Ask me, before my bucket dips into the well
and the rope breaks, about the day at five years old
I looked a cow in the face, felt her lowing swell

through my body like the bronze bell boldly
echoing in the village downriver calling
us to prayer and song, the Lord’s name to extol.

Ask me about my sister wheezing, coughing
into the night, unable to breathe,
how she gasped, woke me without warning,

how my father swept her into his arms sheathed
in blankets, rushed her to car and hospital
with hope that breath would come with ease.

Or my first kiss at thirteen in the middle
of a summer day in our family sunroom,
how it left me feeling awkward, shy and little,

surely now a hussy, a fallen woman about whom
others would whisper, scrutinize and humiliate
as my hips, lips and breasts began to bloom.

Instead you ask about the dinner we ate
last week: black-crusted salmon and asparagus.
You tell me how I relished all on the plate,

so lively I made you smile with my garrulous
chatter. I peer into the well, lower my bucket,
draw it up: of that recent night, no evidence.

I gaze into your eyes; still know your face,
Ask me now Dear One before there is no trace.

Emily Wilmer is co-director of Oasis of Wisdom, An Institute for Contemplative Studies, Practice and Living, in Asheville, North Carolina, where she mentors people in contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition. For her, prayer and poetry are two sides of the same coin as they arise from the same place of attentiveness and spirit.

About An Old Woman Says to Her Son—This poem is in response to my experience with family and friends whose memories are failing and the joy they share when they reach back and pull up memories from the past when the near-present is less available. They have taught me to ask.