My Neighbor & her 98-Year Old Mother Read my Poem About Family Portraits

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I was so honored when Queenie, my 98-year old neighbor, offered to read my poem “Likenesses” with her daughter.

The poem is about family portraits hung in stairwells and hallways, and how the profiles of old silhouettes seem to stare at the back of each other’s heads. Daughters often become mothers, and new portraits appear in front of them on the picture walls.

This view of family, of generations of women all facing the same direction, many of them just silhouettes – nameless, faceless – struck a chord with me.

Likenesses

Old by association,

my silhouette is pinned

with fixed focus.

Near me, a woman cut 

from 1863.

My profile will be cut 

in line by each birth, females

pushing us back

a generation 

on the picture wall.

In hallways and stairways

I’ll stare at my daughters’ heads

framed inches away.

I’ll know their napes like my name.

I’ll stare at the facing frame

but daughters turn 

into mothers,

forward-spilling.

Ada, my thrice-mother, 

forebears my short memory. 

To me, she is Eve. 

Behind her, anonymity.

 

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If you like this poem, read another poem about anonymity.