Passing the 19th by Laura Altshul

His mother’s words: Be a good boy!
Whatever that meant in 1920.
What did Harry T. Burn know?
He was a man now: 24
Republican Tennessee Representative.

He’d seen her in the kitchen, kerchief
holding back her hair, the kettle’s steam
whooshing to her face as she fished
out mason jars loaded with peaches
glossily preserved for winter desserts.

Woman and man in black against white city background
Silent Sentinels by Washington Area Spark. CC license.

At meals she served herself last.
Listened, didn’t ask or say much.
He saw her give food to men
who came to the back door
at strange times of the day.

She wore a faded apron all week long,
hung it up before Sunday church.
Sang hymns fervently, a surprising
strength of breath, and sweetness
not audible in her daily speech.

She gardened early and late, violent
towards the weeds threatening
her crops, hacking with her hoe,
pinching weevils and aphids. Tender
with her lettuces and seedlings.

He thought of her now as his turn came
to vote; the numbers were even.
Be a good boy, she’d said.
He still wasn’t sure, but she
carried the day. The 19th was passed.

Laura Altshul
A retired educator, Laura Altshul tutors and serves on non-profit boards focused on providing educational and arts experiences for New Haven’s children whose families don’t ordinarily have access to these opportunities. Her three books of poetry are Searching for the Northern Lights, Bodies Passing, and Looking Out. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications and won several prizes. She and her husband Victor Altshul co-lead the New Haven Chapter of the Connecticut Poetry Society and have given poetry readings throughout the state.

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