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i called her Great

because my two grandmothers

were already Grand

and she was the Great One.


given to a wealthy woman at 9-years-old,

she was provided with a new identity and a new life.

Great was re-named and re-souled

long before I was born.


at 22, she married a Minnesota Irishman

and they created my grandmother, Catherine,

who had the face of a 1940’s pin-up doll

and the 13 marriage proposals to prove it.


one day when i am grown,
i will receive a letter that she wrote to her brother George.
it will reveal two things to me:
her political persuasion (liberal)
and her cure-all for common illnesses (baking soda).
“when i start to get sick i reach for the baking soda
to make my body more alkaline.”


but first, I was small

when Catherine took me on a train

to see Great in the Big Sky.


Great lived in a plain and rustic house

that straddled the horizon of a lush green pasture

and swollen white clouds perfumed with sweetgrass.


she let me roll her downy white hair

in soft curlers,

her eyes still as bright and green

as mountain pines. 


she wore her cotton and polyester dresses,

shapeless from washings and patterned by the past,

with the grace of an aristocratic intellectual.

an antiquarian Viking queen wearing peasant garments.


she taught me to pull water from the earth

with a red cast iron hand pump in the yard.

“it needs to be primed first,” she said,

placing her twisted and bony hands

over my small fleshy ones.


i discovered pockets

and filled them with stones and insects and flowers,

my black rubber boots sinking in the mud.


she set me on her knees

and sang me the Swedish song,

hoppe, hoppe, hare

“jump, jump, rabbit…”


i pretended to read books to Great

as she cradled me on the sofa—

but she stopped me—

and taught me the words on the pages



she made figures

of my disfigures,

guiding my hands

as I drew faces and birds.


we picked dandelions and put them in salads.

we had soup and she let me drink coffee.

later, i washed the dishes while standing on a chair

and looking out the window.


“where are you from?” I asked her.

“i was born in Denver in 1893,” she said, 

“but my father was from Austria.”

“you’re Australian?” I replied in awe.


when I was a high school Warrior,

Catherine and I visited her at the nursing home.

Great gripped my hands tightly

before playing songs archaic and arcane,

sacred and profane,

on the piano in the common room.


one day, before Great flew away,

Catherine said to her, “Mom, let’s comb your hair,”

and she looked for a brush

but found only a drawer filled with medication

and random pairs of dentures.


i was in college when her song became silent.

now she sleeps tucked under the grass

in a bed on a hill at the foot of the mountains.


one night,

when I was grown all the way,

i was broken and sad,

but in an instant, i felt her presence.

her love filled me as i inhaled her essence

with each new lungful of oxygen.


and now I can find her in still moments,

her light slipping into the dark hollows and deep sockets

in the hearts of the children she left behind.


i didn’t know the escape velocity
of the light in her eyes,
but when i was small
it twinkled like the stars
in the sky. 


she’s a strand of the Universe,

a wave of the Ocean.

tethered to Life even in death—

just like the rest of us. 

just like Everything else.