Twyla Hansen

My Husband’s Grandmother Worked for Willa Cather

From Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet. Backwaters Press, 2011.

That was the legend, a string
of stories passed down while she still lived:
sailed alone at age twelve from Ireland,
lived with sisters in New York until they quarreled,
boarded a train for Nebraska, then,

alighted in her elegant threads
and plumed hat at Red Cloud, all 4’10”
of her oozing sophistication, the carpenter-farmer
falling for her at first sight. Copper-haired
Kitty and hammer-man Henry, marrying.

And this is where the tablet goes fuzzy,
the classic immigrant tale turns cryptic:
devout Catholic, four children in four years,
he dies. Apparently she does what she can:
cook, wash, scrub, dust, haul ash.

I met her as the white-haired matriarch,
her brogue thick and intact, her green eyes afire.
She worked for the Cathers; this much is true.
Only on that first day it seems when told
she must remove her plate from the dining room,

Kitty—God I love it!— turned on her heels,
strode through the swinging kitchen door
where lunch simmered on the stove, became
the servant girl who walked from that story
clean out the back door.