First Place Poetry: "The Grandmas"

by Fran Markover '71


In Gabon, when the grandmothers speak, the president listens. . . .
     —Bernadette Rebienot, Bwiti elder, grandmother of 23

In the Black Hills, on the back page of the Nation
The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers
gathers from each direction of grief —
rainforest, African desert, the Arctic, Great Plains
Their shawls are battle-scarred with red, black, and blue
Scarves warm arthritic knees
The grandmas don’t speak of soup, of quilts
They are not tourists in Hot Springs
They hold hands, lift them in homage to the pines
The women are quiet spokes, their time

a circle, the fire, burn and ash of past gatherings
like the one at the great hall of Mica, its
UN-votes, treaties undone, urban tricksters
The women inflame the air with sage
Grandma Aggie prays for the home-comings of the condor
Debra White Plumes imagines more children for her tribe
Sisters Rita and Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance
invoke an end to Star Wars, 3rd grade gangs, bedroom rape
Chant of babies from un-united states of Fallujah, Kabul,
Phoenix, Katmandu. The grandmothers share

words their elders didn’t — suicide, diabetes, radioactive
Seek Windows and webs that suspend age, that
mid-wife old ladies into shamans, laps into lap-tops
One grandma teaching another how mushrooms absorb
petroleum spills, how dollars green into trees, roots
detox crystal meth. The women hold hands pearled
with sweat. Remember in their bones, in soft-
wear of skin, how seeds and herbs heal wrinkles
of GrandMother’s belly. How once they held the final word
war peace   in each fist


The Grandmas arrived from different directions of my own grief. For one, I missed my grandmother, her wisdom and joy at her 97 years in spite of incredible losses. My poem also came from despair about the direction my country is taking, my sense of powerlessness. At the time of these feelings, a friend mentioned how most publishers hate 'grandmother poems.' This made me angry! So when I recently read an article about the Grandmothers, the words shape-shifted from the darkness into a poem.

— Fran Markover '71



This poem is amazing.

Yes, it is, and our judges certainly agreed!