Mary

Today, my great-grandmother passed away at the ripe old age of ninety-one. And there’s this theme in my mind that I’m struggling to pull together, because the thing is, I didn’t know my great-grandmother, Mary well at all.

There are a couple things I remember about Mary–I remember that she smoked when she was still independently living on her own, and that she smiled a lot when she lived in her convalescent home. Beyond this, I have to rely on my grandma and great aunts and uncles to get a picture of this woman whose existence was crucial to my own.

This week I’ve been thinking a bit about how sometimes you can discover things about yourself you never even knew. Like for example, last week I found a scar on my lip I didn’t know I had, and I thought, “Whoa. How has this little imperfection been a part of me, right here on my lip, without me knowing anything about it for years?”

And today, as I was rereading some of my great-grandmother’s poetry, I remembered the first time I learned that Mary Gallegos was a poet in her own right. There was this feeling of connection, this weird sense of a sort of poetic inheritance that I had received.

I’ve come to understand something about myself–that poetry is my second language, my heart language. And reading my great-grandmother’s poetry, I wonder how it’s possible that decades ago this woman, with whom I share flesh and blood, but almost no relationship, was writing these words of deep pain and longing in a form of writing so dear to me.

There was always this poet in her that I never knew. And it makes me wonder what else I don’t know about myself and my story. But Mary’s story is a part of my own, and I have to wonder if poetry is in my DNA, if it runs in my genes like the Dutch and the Mexican do, if maybe I wouldn’t be who I am without my great-grandmother, for more reasons than just the biological.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year

I hoped the passage of time

Would ease this sorrow of mine

And maybe at night I could

Fall asleep without tears”

–Mary Gallegos

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