"You can live too long," my grandmother says
and, hovering in the wings of her hundredth year,
few know it better than she.
Her body is a framework of sparrow bones
encaging the heart of a lion,
a heart that stirs with savage music in mutiny to her wishes.
A life lived in service is loath to become a burden.
My mother, steeped in a mantle of Irish Catholicism, says
it rattles her faith to see Grandmother
visited by torments she does not deserve.
My father who loves her like his own mother
remembers her as a woman who lived without complaint
now that physical pain and mental anguish
drive her beyond her character.
My aunts are two sides of a triangle weakened by the third,
playing down the struggle that ages them too soon
and plying her with love to ease the bitter passage
to the banks of the Styx.
And I, her grandson, with a throat full of lumps
and a head full of happier times,
look at my grandmother not as a rheumy-eyed woman
with thin hair and threadbare skin,
but the grandma I shared a room with,
standing true as the kauri of her house
before her mirror at bedtime.
Her fingers not gnarled but deft as they unleashed
a cascade of thick, white tresses
and the sparkle in her eye as she told me stories
to the rhythm of her brushstrokes.
As a child, my grandmother had magic and mana to me,
and no matter how fate and time erode her,
nothing can strip the magic from our hearts.
The poet wishes to acknowledge The National Poetry Foundation (UK) in whose anthology this poem first appeared.