Slavish Devotion

by Cathryn Hankla

Each Sunday with the snips
A tin pail half of water
Half of garden blooms
I following, following
The motions of the elders, the aunts
Who never matriculated from home

At the cemetery they knew just where they
Were going, straight to the mausoleum
Wall, where their names were already

Engraved, an open date
With the eternal
There they threw out the putrid water

The shriveled flowers and greenery
Restocked the bronze vase
And told me stories

Of the ancestors
Who lived in the wall
The grandfather

I never knew, whose heart gave out
The grandmother
I had not seen except in a sick bed

She was their stepmother
The one who raised them
Their tone was reverential

And sometimes they cried
If you had asked me what we worshiped, then
I would have said “Grandmother”

Not any god or god’s son
Whose most important moments
Were spent dying

CATHRYN HANKLA’s the author of eleven books of poetry and fiction, including Last Exposures: a sequence of poems and Fortune Teller Miracle Fish: stories. She is Professor of English & Susan Gager Jackson Professor of Creative Writing at Hollins University.