To tell her story, you must know when
to put courage in a matchbox and conceal
it in a loaf of bread. You must learn how
a message betokened deliverance
when courage is simply a word someone
wrote on a slip of paper and the sweet
scent of bread could no longer sustain you.
You must grasp your other hand with what
grit remains, growing and unyielding.
To tell her story, you must walk in her shoes.
If forced out of your leased farmland,
don’t forget to bring rice if you can pack
only what you can carry. And if
your mother did not speak inside the bus
with the windows covered with brown paper
on the way to the barracks, it was only
because she was praying that you would not be
housed in the horse stall with the manure
whitewashed over. And if you were, she was
deciding what to do about the smell.
To tell her story, you must remember
the landscape from behind barbed
wire fences. You must gaze at your body
and know its history, look beneath
the tender, ridged scars and see the bone
protruding out of your right arm
and hole the size of a football
on your right thigh, wondering how
the lights never went out. You must
look at the image of your grandmother
with the weight of rammed earth against
what you survived. To tell her story,
you must say a prayer, not of sorrow,
but of grace. You must loosen the earth,
pick daffodils to the base of the stem,
remember your roots and ordinary days,
and the grit under your fingernails,
the way your grandmother taught you.
Copyright © 2021 by Aileen Cassinetto. This poem originally appeared in Marsh Hawk Press Review, Spring 2021. Used with permission of the author.