The Faces of Older Women

Editor’s note: When I was a young, newly-divorced mother and my son Edward was little, I became friends with several women in their seventies and eighties. A couple of them were volunteers at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, where I worked. Others were members of my church. I wrote a poem inspired by these friendships and by the older women in my family, especially my mother Lisette Berglund Hyde, her mother Judith Snell Berglund, and Lisette’s cousin Edith Evelina Ostberg. Here it is. — MAB

The Faces of Older Women

Going out in the world to seek your fortune,
You see the faces of older women
And remember where you came from.

Fortune, starred beyond measure
In night skies that blow deep with wind,
Remembers your face and puts you beside them always,
Older women tall as herons or wide as smiles,
Standing beside you in office cafeterias,
Chatting in line at the post office,
Waiting for the day’s mail.

Older women’s faces, touched with memory and sun,
Shine down on you from pictures on your wall.
They frown between rows of newly-weeded peas in June,
Or stare distantly from old farmhouse parlors
In the depths of your box of black and white snapshots.

Are these frowns
Of concentration or distaste, bitterness
Or simply too much sun?

Whether you know the truth or not,
Whether you feel them with you or against you,
Shining with promise or dulled with a film of care and misfortune,
The cheek sometimes resting on a length of checkered toweling
Pinned to the back of a long-cherished armchair,
The lips murmuring memories of their own mothers
Like light and shadow around them,

Whether you know it or not you know they are here,
The faces of older women, here in your face
And on your walls and at your doorways,
Coming in and going out with the endless traffic of fortune,
Rising and falling like the bread in the oven,
Stopping for darkness, beginning with day.

Mary Ann Barton