Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Who Stands Beside Me"

This poem came out of the June 19, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from the_vulture and zianuray.  It has been sponsored by janetmiles as part of the 2012 Holiday Poetry Sale.  This poem belongs to the series Hart's Farm, and you can read more about that on the Serial Poetry page.

WARNING: This poem focuses on family tensions and coping with grief in community, including positive and negative examples across different individuals.  It is therefore a lot heavier than average for Hart's Farm.  If that's likely to be upsetting for you, then you may want to skip it.

Who Stands Beside Me

Auduna knew something was wrong
when she walked into the common house and saw
the usually reserved Hrafn bawling in Solvig's lap.
Solvig rubbed his back with one hand
as she passed him another handkerchief.

Hrafn's wife Gróa sniffled and explained,
"We just heard that Hrafn's mother Siv passed away."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Auduna said.
She hadn't known the woman,
but she liked Hrafn and he was heartbroken.

Vendel the farmer came in,
leading Hrafn's teenaged son Thorsten.
Both of them had bits of straw in their short dark hair.
Thorsten showed a brave face,
but his chin was trembling,
so that wasn't likely to last much longer.
"Dýrfinna went to find Borga," said Vendel.

Auduna felt horribly awkward
watching other people's grief.
Growing up, she had understood what to do
when there was a death in the family;
but Hart's Farm held such a jumble of customs
that she didn't know where to begin.
Few of them even attended church regularly.

Ola came in, regal as a queen
with her white hair braided into a crown.
The matriarch gathered up Gróa and said,
"We must decide who will go to the funeral with Hrafn.
He is too upset to think about anything right now."

Just like that, Auduna realized
what she could do to help.
She hurried into the linen room
where she found the sisters Trygve and Tófa sewing
while little Klara helped Karin and Frida fold bedsheets.
"Hrafn's mother died," said Auduna.  "People will need
their church clothes cleaned and pressed.
I hope you know who's likely to go,
because I really don't."

Both sisters set aside their sewing.
"Bring us anything that needs mending," said Trygve.
Karin turned to her daughter and said,
"Find some of the other children to help you collect clothes,
then carry everything in here for us to tend."
Frida opened a pair of painted wooden doors, saying,
"We keep some fancy clothes for children in here
because they outgrow things so fast.
Sit down, Auduna, and I'll hand you things
to see if they need mending or rewashing."

So they spent the rest of the day
making sure that all the church clothes were ready,
and that anyone who didn't have their own
was able to borrow from someone else who did.
Solvig lent out all her dresses, solemn things
of black or dove gray, sapphire, and
a blue-green so deep it was nearly black
that Inge called viridian.
Gróa let Bergren into Hrafn's closet
for the sake of men who did not keep a suit.

The morning of the funeral, Auduna helped
Rowen make bouquets of chrysanthemums,
then helped Karin arrange people's hair
and the black lace veils that some of the women wore.

Auduna was going precisely because
she hadn't  known Hrafn's mother Siv
and they needed people who could still think clearly
to take care of the ones who couldn't.
Auduna watched Borga trying not to cry
while her mother Gróa brushed her hair,
and thought that was a wise precaution.

Vendel had harnessed all the farm's black horses
and the darkest of the bays, their manes
braided and ribboned, their bridles each accented
with a single white chrysanthemum.
It took several wagons to carry all the people
who had known Siv and wished to pay their last respects
or wanted to support Hrafn and his family.

Auduna loved the village church
with its tall white columns and blue pews,
the inside decorated with paintings of angels and saints.
"Look there," Inge murmured to her, pointing,
"Finlo did that one and I helped."

Heads turned when they entered,
and the man who held the candle snuffer
gave them a wary look.
Still Auduna did not expect anything amiss
until someone stormed down the aisle
to confront Hrafn.

"How dare you come in here
with your pack of floozies?"
the old man growled.

Solvig and Gróa closed ranks in front of Hrafn.
Borga burst into tears, and Auduna
slipped forward to take her hand.
"Grandfather, can't we be nice?" Thorsten pleaded,
looking at his sister.
"Pappa, don't," added a dark-haired woman
who looked much like Hrafn.

"Hrafn should be standing with his proper family,"
said his father, "not these ... people."
"Who stands beside me in my grief is my family,"
Hrafn said, his voice hoarse.
"Call that a family," the old man grumbled.

"Steinar, enough,"  interrupted a stern voice.
The pastor edged through the crowd,
and people made way when they saw who it was.
"I will have no quarrels in God's house," he declared.
Steinar gave him a taut nod and walked away.

"Thank you, Father Mikael," said Hrafn.
"I'm delighted to see you here again, Hrafn,
though I could wish for happier circumstances,"
the pastor replied as he took Hrafn's hand in welcome.
Hrafn's gaze followed his father's retreating back.
"I would come more often," he said,
"but it is ... awkward."
"Come anyway," said Hrafn's sister.
"We'll get along somehow."

Auduna watched as Father Mikael worked through
the huddle of people who had come with Hrafn,
greeting most of them by name,
his silver head nodding solemnly.
His eyes were warm and kind
as he welcomed Auduna, and she thought
that Hrafn's mother would be well-wished on her way.

Indeed, the service was thoughtful,
the pastor reading from Siv's favorite passages.
Several family members and villagers
stepped up to speak as well -- it was clear
that many people had known and loved her.
Then Bergren's voice rose from the choir loft,
singing a solo not in Swedish but in Irish,
a sweet celestial lament.
Auduna dabbed her face with her handkerchief
as Hrafn turned to cry on his wife's shoulder.

Thorsten was still too short to help carry the coffin,
and Hrafn was in no shape whatsoever to do it,
so Vendel and Arnvid took their places instead.
"I'll miss Grandmother," Borga said
as the grave was being filled.
Auduna, missing her own grandmother rather fiercely,
nodded and said nothing aloud.

Afterward, Auduna watched as the dark-haired woman
peeled away from Hrafn and came toward her.
"I'm Hrafn's sister Eirny," the older woman said.
"It was kind of you to come here with Hrafn today.
So you're one of his new friends?"

Auduna noticed her own embroidery
on Eirny's wet handkerchief, and guessed
that Hrafn must have given it to his sister.
"Yes, I am," she said.  "My name is Auduna."

"He's lucky to have you all," Eirny said.
"You spoke up for him too," Auduna pointed out,
"and that can't be easy with your father."
"That's what family is all about," Eirny said,
"doing what's needful for each other,
even when it isn't easy."

As Auduna went to fetch the wagon,
she recalled Hrafn's love for Gróa
and Eirny's love for Hrafn,
all the nice things said about Siv,
and even the irascible Steinar
who probably felt that Hrafn's choice of friends
was somehow disrespectful to Siv;
and she thought that she understood
the background that had led Hrafn to Hart's Farm.

Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, family skills, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, writing
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