How evenly my grandmother’s pan
conducts the heat! It’s Revere,
she’d say, that’s a good brand.
But her voice did it better yet—
chafed nothing, nothing ever scorched.
She was always hungry for love,
a pretty, dark little thing
who thought Black Beauty
too much of a name for her mare
and so called her Dude; had a bitch
named Reilly, after the man
she got her from, a nice little dog,
clean and intelligent; preferred cats.
Described Jesus as the most beautiful
of all earth’s children, a very good–
looking man. He wore his hair soft
down to the shoulders, the fashion
in those days, yes, and he walked
in a white robe they say the dust
never touched. Had her healing
in 1935, started up in my head
and went all down my body, into
the tips of my fingers, you know,
like when I was a little girl
getting excited about something.
Does that happen to you? Maybe
it doesn’t happen with little boys.
Tingling in my fingertips and toes,
and I knew I’d had a healing.
She got up and brushed her hair,
changed clothes, put some lipstick on.
Then went out to face her husband,
who couldn’t see a thing through—
spoiled, you know. Self-will, that’s
the bad thing. Well, he looked at me
and turned white as a sheet.
Wrote down on a scrap for me:
“A man’s gift maketh room for him,
and bringeth him before great men.”
She thought her father one,
even though he held her back
in her voice, where her gift was.
Notation probably exists for it
in Sidney Lanier’s treatise
or in other books on voice,
circa 1910, when she began
to train it. She said it matter-of-fact:
They just held us back in those days.
But I’ve become an elderly woman,
and not at all well, and I’ll be leaving
this ball of earth before too long,
and I’m willing to go.
Then she recited in the same tone
stanzas from that elegy of Gray’s
her father recited on the farm,
the lines about the flowers
born to blush unseen, to waste away,
and the sober wishes, not taught to stray.
But notation is one thing (You know
men are more particular about their
watches, because they have to catch
things) and the life of voice another.
Hers, that cast the sounds it rode on
into little thoughts she was always
sending out, the higher things
she kept lifting her mind up to,
was round as the fifty-cent piece
she made me see a likeness through.
Not a dollar, no, that’d be too big.
for Ruth Murphy Sweet (1898–1990)