Elder Song

"Elder Song" won second prize in the best free verse poem category from the Indiana Collegiate Press Association's Literary Magazine Competition in April 2013. The poem was published in Red Cents, 2012, the award-winning creative arts journal of the Goshen College English Department.

Elder Song

We sang until our tongues grew weary with words.
The four of us crowded onto the piano bench, and
I swayed on the low notes like a monk.

Last Christmas, we tried singing an old one--
Grandma Mattie's favorie--
but the tongue was not ours; the notes did not fit.

She cradled the thick black hymnal in her hands.
Beneath our voices her sorrowful wail, steady,
strung together the boxed notes,
tied them in a line like rows of buggies
outside the barn, beside the restless horses that flicked their tails
rhythmically and stomped their hooves into the ground.

We sang like straight-backed visitors at the funeral,
eyeing the bearded bishops, the red-cheeked mothers
cooing to babies in the back,
the wafting scents of simmering noodles,
enough to feed two hundred.

We quit our voices and turned to her,
rocking as if to launch herself back to that place,
the place we granddaughters knew
only through car windows
and words like shatzli and schnooki.

Perched on the piano bench, I rocked too,
wishing to enter her song.

About the Author

Mary Roth

Mary Roth, of Eugene, Oregon, is a native of Goshen, Indiana, and graduated from Goshen College in 2013 with an English writing major and a women’s studies minor. She is currently a copy editor at Wipf & Stock Publishers in Eugene and was a Luci Shaw Fellow at Image Journal in Seattle in 2013.