You were a gentle, genteel young woman swept away by a man
Thirteen years your senior who gallantly courted you,
Riding proudly atop his great steed, and who offered you
Safety, security, his good name and his heart.
He gave you four children—two boys and two girls—and left you,
And them, just before the Guardia Civil came for him. You told them that
Your husband had emigrated to Argentina and was an honorable man.
They questioned you but left empty handed and did not trouble you again.
For the next decade, you managed your husband’s affairs,
Continued with his business for a time,
Grieved the death of your youngest son, Manolito, to meningitis,
And found comfort in your lot, which was better than most.
You were a proud, prim, proper, handsome woman,
With large, penetrating, deep blue eyes.
Though you were not a radiant beauty like your older sister,
Who died young but whose beauty long outlived her in the eyes of many.
But you were beautiful, and turned more than your share of heads in younger days.
And you fondly recalled all the good, young men from good families who courted you,
Whom you kept at a proper distance through your virtue, wielded like
A great shield; yet you took no small pride in recounting their attentions.
You were kind, generous, and self sacrificing. And you were strong, though this
Trait was not encouraged of proper women of the time. You were a
Good friend, and though you could appear as aloof as a queen walking among her
Subjects, you had many close friends among both wealthy and poor.
Though you were proud, you tilled the soil and grew potatoes, beets, beans,
Cabbage, artichokes and many other vegetable in your ample garden,
Picked apples, lemons, pears, figs and many other fruits for your family,
From your fruit trees, milked your cows, and raised chickens and rabbits.
Your pride sustained you through the tough times, and you took comfort from
Your illustrious relative, José Sánchez Bregua (1810-1897), the distinguished
Four-star General, Commander in Chief of the forces of Spain, and War Minister whose
State funeral in 1897 was the first motion picture made in Spain.
Your memories of a gentler past colored by both real and imagined glory,
And your overly strong pride in your children, grandchildren and family,
Rescued you from loneliness and the unpleasant realities of life,
And condemned you to remember the past at the expense of living the present.
The last time I saw you, you were as strong and lovely as ever, with perfect
Posture, and every hair in place. Your eyes were still clear, and your smile as
Gentle and reassuring as it had always been. But you did not know me or dad, and spoke to us of
Your son and grandson in New York of whom you were so proud.
While dad and I sat next to you, you told us both about ourselves and of
Sánchez Bregua, and of your many suitors when you were young, and of your
Virtuous friends, and of your husband’s good name, and of his standing in the
Community, and whispered not a word of pain, of loneliness or of self-sacrifice.
Your soft voice spoke only of pleasant things I’d heard many times before that belied
Your strength, your mettle, your life deferred, your wounds covered over by the only
Salve available to you—pride—and by the unshakable knowledge of who you were
Without a moment wasted in the pointless contemplation of what might have been.
Dad and I left you for the last time, contentedly fussing with your old sewing
Machine, the same one on which you had made your children’s clothes, and taught
Your two daughters their craft. You did not recognize us, but chatted politely and did
Not notice our tears when dad and I said what would prove to be our final good-byes.
from Of Pain and Ecstasy: Collected Poems (C) 2011, 2018