At the June festival of Matralia, Roman women held their sisters’ children
and prayed to the goddess of Dawn (Matrona Matuta) to bless them.
The sky lifts faint fingertips at the altar
of dawn. A fair day, but hazy. The air
is a breath of may-tree blossom, mingled
with incongruous incense – woodsmoke
from the fires that cut great swaths of forest
north and west of here, blazing processions
of pine and aspen. But this city is safe enough,
where birds birl and twitter and build nests.
Who can I clasp in my arms and offer
for the morning matron’s friendly offices?
My sister’s children live a world away.
At the ceremony where I held her son
– a lusty struggler in his christening robe –
how I felt the tug of blood
between us, the bonnie boy, the beloved first born.
Colour rises in the sky. The smell of smoke
strengthens like burning newsprint. Last night’s paper,
the pictures from a war, an anguished woman
holding her sister’s child – an infant
orphaned by explosion, all unknowing,
happy to be cradled. An offering to tragedy.
Our sisters’ children, all around the world.
Alice Major served as Edmonton’s first poet laureate (2005-07). Watch for her new book of poetry, The Office Tower Tales, from the University of Alberta Press. Check it out at http://www.uap.ualberta.ca/UAP.asp?LID=41&bookID=783