by Suzanne Farrell Smith
February 2020 | Originally published by River Teeth (October 2016)
Only now, as you stand center of an aisle carpeted royal blue, where you and your older sisters, styled by mother in hand-sewn dresses to match her own, once trailed like ducks down the narrow river, bearing Communion on days Mass was dedicated to your dead father;
Only now, while the oldest, behind you, corrals her children, and the second stands to the side and bends whispering to hers, and the third clutches your elbow;
Only now, while your three diapered babies remain in the hall gated by guild ladies;
Only now, after you kept your mother on ice as many days as nature and custom allowed, ordered the organist and conducted the cantor, debated readings with presiding priests, chose the Bible edition, solicited pallbearers, moved a cousin to the left so he could lift with a good arm, shifted the strongest to the front;
Only now, head and shoulders above-coffin, do you look forward and see nothing of your mother’s patchwork skirt that once shielded you, smallest mouse in a big house;
Only now do you sense your body’s surface exposed, your face a trigger for congregants wondering when to weep;
Only now, fourth of four, first in line for the first time, only now do you swallow your generation.
Let your black cardigan slip, irreverent, from your shoulders, and walk, eyes fixed on the deacon’s wife’s hat.
Suzanne Farrell Smith is the author of The Memory Sessions, a memoir about her search for lost childhood memory; and The Writing Shop, a guidebook for writing teachers. Her work appears in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Hippocampus, and numerous other journals and anthologies; has been named Notable in Best American Essays and Special Mention in Pushcart Prize; and won a Pushcart in 2019.