Judith Mason, Self Portrait Age Ninety (detail), 1985.
“Aunt Alma,” a poem by W. S. Merwin from our Spring 1958 issue. Merwin is eighty-eight today.
This is the one that will outlive us allWith her head in the same duster and her smallMouth maybe puckering in a bit moreEach decade, but it always did gatherShut, that way, with a drawstring. Only herGlasses, I think, may thicken some; that odorOf naptha and laundry, that look and colorOf saved pumpkin shrunk in the dark, were thereTwenty-five years ago when she appearedOver the railing of Ruth’s cradle andMade the baby scream. Nothing has escapedThat stub and orange hand since it was littleAnd could snatch rats out of the cellar wallTo soak in gas and light them with a matchAs she let go, laughing for fear the fields catch,Up the river, when they were children. It stillPossess three pennies of the first nickelHusband Spence ever made, and cleans and keepsThings covered but never uses, while the worldKnows who might be watching even the preachersOn their pedestals. Nor nothing ever got fadedBy the daylight in a house of hers. OnlyThe eye of God ever got past the drawnBlinds and belted drapes at her locked windows,To where she sits now on a loose coverWhile Spence nods in his hat, and her brotherThe snuffling preacher and she writhe togetherWith the wrestlers on the jigging screen, smackFists in palms and cry for blood. Unto herDark at last all our things will be added,We never doubted. One after the otherShe will watch us go, and no one will seeHer sidle up to each of us where he lies,See her bend down over us, blinking behindHer mullioned lenses, nor catch the rat-quick handReach to snatch the pennies from our eyes.
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