Poem: Am I Not My Sister’s Keeper?

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

Am I not my sisters’ keeper? As we

shout when wolves crouch down, and

hold back blood and tooth and claw

with flimsy skirts and petticoats

and when we cheer the jungle king

that lies with calves in sweet green clover

water washing rocks and mistakes clean.

Wisdom, pain and sorrow, shame

water washing rocks and mistakes clean.

Am I not my sisters’ keeper

as the pressures of our lives erupt?

Who can calm my sister down?

Bowls of water, cool fresh water

wiping fevered brows with prayer.

Rock of Ages, cool fresh water

offering faith and love and hope and prayer.

Sensing spirits in the wind, women

open arms and gather in,

honoring, remembering truth.

Am I not my sisters’ keeper? Speak

the name of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

poet, abolitionist, I speak

the name of Emma Caldwell Gatewood

climbing mountains, seeking heaven.

Women clenching stories in their thighs,

and in their breasts and in their wrists.

Standing tall in unity, the

sisters reach for stars while wiping mud

from faces, boots and fingers, toes

Am I not my sisters’ keeper?

Shout the words you tell ‘em sister

knowing that they’ve said them first.

Oh, they are their sisters’ keepers

midwives, gardeners, mothers, saints, oh

keeping secrets of the night, my sisters

hold them in their throats and hearts.

Voiceless women with a voice so strong

the Milky Way bends down in awe.

So shout it sister, say it loud

oh say it proud ‘cuz am I not my sisters’

keeper as we dance in darkness, light

a lamp and hold that flame above hunched

heads? Candles flicker, hearts can break

while sisters whisper, sigh and moan and cry.

Leaving hearth behind, surrendering

what’s safe, the sisters plunge

into the dark, burning fingers, scorching palms

and then they light that lamp again.

Then, oh my sisters.

Then, my sisters.

Oh, my sisters.

And then we light that lamp again.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Dubbed an extraordinary “person of color,” Frances Harper has, by and large, been forgotten by history. She was a fascinating woman, a poet and abolitionist, essayist, public speaker, journalist, teacher, suffragist and published fiction writer born in 1825 in the United States when much of her race was enslaved. She spent time living in the Columbus, Ohio area, and she sent money and otherwise helped Mary Ann (Day) Brown when that woman’s husband, John, was sentenced to die for attempting to arm slaves and lead an uprising at Harper’s Ferry. I first learned about Frances when looking for Civil War-era poetry to read at an event, and she became the subject of my play, Bound Together: One Great Bundle of Humanity.

Emma Gatewood

Emma Rowena Caldwell Gatewood, an Ohioan, was the first woman to solo-through hike the Appalachian Trail, doing so at the age of 67. She repeated the feat two more times to become the first person, man or woman, to complete this remarkable accomplishment three times. She is the subject of the Emmy-nominated documentary, Trail Magic: The Grandma Gatewood Story; it appeared on PBS and I have sole writing credits.


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