Sterkte says my mother when I go,
one of the many Dutch words she knows,
one of the few I’ve learned.
Her mother said the same to her
when she left Los Angeles for Tacoma,
two babies in diapers, no dryer.
It rained all but one day of November.
The tenth day of wet gray,
it took strength to smile even briefly.
On the twentieth, she whispered
it a hundred times. Sterkte.
My great-grandmother wished it
when her daughter, new baby in arms,
boarded the boat. Wished it for her daughter
and herself. Just to walk home.
In each letter we’ve sent: Sterkte.
Four generations, in different hands,
the one word we still write
in the mother tongue.
Lynn Otto teaches writing classes for homeschoolers and is an adjunct writing instructor at George Fox University in Oregon. She'll begin work on an MFA in poetry at Portland State University in September 2011. Her work is in Triggerfish Critical Review, Yamhill County Arts Alliance’s Paper Gardens chapbooks, and forthcoming in Plain Spoke.