Matthew T. Ryan
July 24, 1891-March 11, 1933
Wrapped in shadows,
in folds of others’ memories,
how often mother told stories she’d heard of you
as if their very repetition
could bring her father to conscious memory,
swath your spirit in flesh.
Your schooling ended
after three years.
You met my grandmother at a dance
in a hall above the general store.
You graded the county road
with a weighted railroad tie
dragged behind a team of horses.
You plowed the field in chill rain and fell ill.
You named a newborn daughter
for your mother as you lay near death.
Your sister, a nurse, could do nothing for you.
Such jarring, disparate fragments do not make a life,
nor do photographs my mother enshrines
of a man forever in his prime,
blue eyes ghost-white in fading images.
My mother’s youngest child,
older than you were at death,
I write these things
wanting them to mean something
beyond how time
feeds on us all.