West Highland

Whenever I hear their aged names—
Lena, Cora Mae, Lydia, Bea—
I think of prim, widowed ladies from
the Baptist Church in West Highland Township;
and imagine their ordered, born-again lives
beyond the latter-day suburban sprawl
of disenchantment and convenience stores.
Lives lived out at the same pace as their mothers
and their mothers’ people years before them,
between potlucks and bake sales and bazaars,
missions and revivals, Sunday to Sunday.
And for romance, they had Nights to Remember—
in summer, the Bible School picnics,
October, the Farm Bureau Harvest Ball.
All winter long, they courted in parlors
with men named Thurmond or Wilbur or Russell Lloyd.
They married at Easter and bore children
and outlived their husbands and tend the graves now
after Sunday services, weather permitting.
Whenever I see them, arm in arm,
at funerals where they sing or bring baked hams
in memory of one of their sisters, dead
of the long years or the nursing home,
I think of how the century for them
was neither wars nor science nor the evening news
but a blur of careful rites of passage:
baptisms and marriages and burials.
And I envy their heavens furnished like parlors
with crocheted doilies on the davenport
and Aunt Cecelia, who never got married,
singing “In the Garden” or “Abide with Me”
and God the Father nodding in His armchair
at saints and angels who come and go
with faces like neighbors and with names they know.

— Thomas Lynch, "West Highland"