In this picture we have of you
We pass around this family circle,
Four sisters, you the oldest we figure
Must be about eighteen;
But there are five sisters,
And we wonder where Juanita is.
Your funeral today; we arrive early,
And rather than go inside the church we drive
In and around this small Iowa town.
We go past the cemetery, east another
Two miles or so, the road that winds around
Double Lakes, your father’s family farm.
Driving, I feel a stone roll around inside
My heart but then my uncle starts to tell
The story of the first time he tried snuff,
The golden wheat field he lay down in
Sick as a poisoned pup, wretching, cured.
Time flies, he says, the clock in his own soul
Saying he has just turned eighty. Time flies.
In this picture we have of you,
You hold the youngest in your arms;
My mother, the next to the youngest, stands,
Her arms wrapped around your legs.
Leona has her back to your other side, looking away.
With the oldest gone, I think, who will
Save the younger from despair or haul them
Back from reckless indifference or lift
Them up each night when dusk comes and sleep
Un-hinders what has all day struggled inside them?
DANIEL JAMES SUNDAHL is Emeritus Professor in English and American Studies at Hillsdale College where he taught for more than 32 years. He and his wife have relocated from Michigan to South Carolina.