Truth Beautiful

By Elaine Rumsey Wagner

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen
Surrounded by the warmth of the wood furnace, stoked hot
Against the four-foot drifts of the Snake River Plain outside.

She told me how beautiful I was,
Her creased hands against my cheeks.
She talked about the beauty of youth that doesn’t need
Lipstick and cream blushers.

Her hands, part of the early morning crew that cut potatoes at spring planting,
Pulling the brown dirt fruit of Idaho
Across the knife edge in front of her,
Shining wet in the dimness of the spud pit.

Slowly she piled dollar after dollar
Into her sons’ college accounts
To make my father’s life and mine
What they are.

She excelled at Latin
In school before she had to quit.
I wondered if it had done her any good.
I thought she didn’t really understand.
Me, a small-town teen, mourning my lack of boyfriend.

Now I know more.
Then my eyes saw as if they were perfect.
Now my glasses tell me
They were just over-compensating.

I walk in the sun of California
To teach my junior college math class
My students ask,
When are we ever going to use this?

I look out at a sea of youth
And I see the beauty they already have.
Sometimes they lose it in the trying,
Clothes tight and short, teetering on four-inch heels,
Pierced, tattooed, smoking, posing,

But in their eyes, a longing
For someone to tell them
They are Beautiful.

When I visited my grandmother last, after her stroke,
In the Idaho nursing home next to the Snake,
Past the gray ice chunks in the parking lot

She, in her wheelchair, hands constantly shaking, smiled
As my sisters and I sang Christmas songs.
She knew me, which is rare.
Her so frail hand on my arm,
She asked me to take her with me
And I smiled gently knowing she longs for home.

Then she told me I was Beautiful,
So Beautiful.

About Elaine Rumsey Wagner

Elaine has a BS in math from BYU and an MA in math from California State University, Fresno. She has four boys, one girl, one wonderful husband, and two very fluffy cats. After ten years in California, she is getting used to Idaho winters again.

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