Sigrun Susan Lane
When Mother Took Her Hair Down
When Mother took her hair down
in order to wash it, we gathered round
to see it fall nearly to her knees--
the strangeness of it.
She was an ancient sorceress,
her hair fell in wondrous waves.
We imagined what could live there
in the dark curtains, small animals,
fairies perhaps, ladders for huldufolk
who built homes in her tresses.
We played peek-boo through its drapery
until she shooed us, so she could wash it.
Then she sat before the fireplace
to let it dry, bent forward so it cascaded.
We could see the fire through it
as she brushed. We huddled
close to her feet for warmth.
She brushed and brushed.
We asked to help, but our small hands
did not have the strength
to handle its thickness, its body.
Then she gathered it up and braided
it in that funny way of hers.
She held a strand in her mouth,
fixed two thick braids then wound them
round in the style of her Icelandic mother.
She looked old fashioned and regal,
like a visitor from a faraway country
where nature is cruel
and a woman is prized for the hair on her head.
Umma’s Brown Bread
All the elements are here--
earth, wind, air and fire.
From the oven the loaves come
brick-shaped and heavy.
The first slices coated with butter,
we eat by the warm wood stove,
our mouths full of grain.
No talking. We negotiate
coarse lumps, grind them with our teeth.
We can only chew and chew and chew
the dark substance, tasting of earth,
rye, wheat’s long golden grasses,
roots burrowed in darkness, soil and rain.
My grandmothers down through generations
baked this bread. They taught me
this food can save your life.
Their hands kneaded the moist dough,
loaves for those that dragged
themselves a thousand winters
across frozen landscapes
inside their own bodies.
This aching hunger. You will be lonely,
This is the hardest bread,
but it will keep you alive.
Hard sugar cubes gripped
between their front teeth,
three grey haired women pour
hot English tea to a saucer,
sip the brew with noisy gusto,
suck the sweetness through.
In the kitchen’s steamy warmth
they grin, savor this ritual impropriety.
I sip my tea from a cup.
When they sailed from Reykjavik
for Halifax on the S.S.Cameons--
it meant six weeks in airless steerage,
six week of sea sickness.
They left behind the old ways,
where serving girls, curtseyed
before the gentry
in their drawing rooms.
They backed out of parlors, just so.
Aunt Briet leaps to her feet
mimics the posture--
her back, her head bent
she bows out of room,
and out the door.
They fall about laughing,
their bitter laughter sweetened
only by the hard sugar in their teeth.
Sigrun Susan Lane lives in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, Little Bones and SALT, which won the Josephine Miles award for excellence in 2020. Her poems have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Malahat Review, Seattle Review, and many other national and international journals. She has won awards for poetry from the Seattle Arts Commission and the King County Arts Commission.