Nyah Agnes


Lee Francis

Gran'ma didn't make fry bread
her Indian hands refused the mold
Instead she chose a different path
imposed her will in other ways

Secretly taught me in her rock garden
to listen quietly to the trees
Showed me how to honor and treasure
the earth our mother and sky our father

Didn't worry if she was Indian enough
the Catholic kids made sure of that
In her own way she made her point
and quietly went on about her life

Gave her aunt Edith "what for" over me
but I never returned to the beach house
Never revisited childhood memories
of musty-smell and ocean spray

The secret garden tested her will
to grow living plants from water starved earth
but the metate grinding stone
stayed in its place by the dining room door

White-laced ivy, honeysuckle, and cedar
hid the white plaster house where she lived
Much like the mask she wore of stoic reserve
except when Flissie died after the rainstorm

Her tears were real enough for her youngest
when he died of alcohol and other abuses
And her rock garden withered like the roses
that refused to climb the weather-worn trellis

"Good-bye please" she'd say and the teaching would end
until the last time I saw her after the stroke
"Good-bye please" I whispered as I held her hand
and quietly watched as her spirit passed over

Gran'ma never made fry bread
and now she dances among the stars
As her gossamer shawl shimmers in the sky
on cold winter nights I listen for her laughter

Nyah is the Keres (Laguna Pueblo) word for mother/grandmother.

From Callaloo: Special Native American Issue, Vol. 17.

© 1993 Lee Francis

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