Second place, poetry: 'Me and Ma, and Pa'

 
By Joe Lynn
Arlington Heights
Updated 4/30/2021 3:16 PM

Judge's comment: Memory is a common subject of poems; by examining and sharing our memories, I think poets are really trying to reveal who we are not only to the reader, but to ourselves. This poem connects the past and present in a way that is very real and relatable -- I feel I learn something special about the writer, and both Ma and Pa, that fits right in with my own family experiences.

Arthur P. Specht, Adelaide Specht, John Straub --

 

I could have sworn it was over here or….

I strode to the other side of St. Benedict's statue.

I stopped suddenly.

I looked down; I was standing on grandpa's grave.

Ma would have scolded me for such an act,

as if it was holy, sacred ground.

The weeds were stretching out onto the grey,

pale pink marble stones that are the sum of

human lives, adding up to only phrases

living in my mind:

"Trim the grass off da stone….Fill dis pail wit

water….Wrench da lumpen out and shine da

stone. Make it look nice….Oh, get away now!

Let me finish….Go wisit your Godfader.

Clean his a little….It looks pretty nice,

huh Joey?"

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We'd visit Pa once a week in summer.

Me, shuttling along, but a little behind,

barely tall enough to reach up

and grab hold of her tender, arthritic,

wrinkled hand.

Ma, "sweating da bullets,"

Soiled knees and a flowered housecoat,

hating the "shloppy business" of the house,

the grave, of nature.

We'd come with half-rusty grass clippers

with shiny black electrical tape around

the handles to smother the sprouting cushions;

a yellow metal shovel; a lumpen

torn from an old piece of clothing. We pulled the weeds,

trimmed the grass, shined Pa's stone, and recited

a little German prayer. Cleaned, sweated, prayed, cried.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And how scared we were when we crept along,

click-clacked echoes of our shoes tapping marble,

no one in sight, we held on tight, stayed close.

The mausoleum, so empty. "Shpooky," Ma

whispered in my pricked up ear, "Not a soul around."

(How right she was!) "Let's get out of here, Joey."

I'd finished college now, and rejected

visiting cemeteries, not recalling

how I used to go so much with Ma.

I'd say that there's nothing to console there.

The soul is not there.

And now I stand here alone, once again;

hands in my pockets, twice the size I was,

looking at the stones we visited many times--

cleaned sweated, prayed, cried.

I haven't come here to visit souls, just to

pull the weeds, trim the grass, shine the stones,

recite a little German prayer I have

half forgotten…

I haven't forgotten,

Me and Ma, and Pa.

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