Tribute to Yaya

In honor of my grandmother Yaya’s birthday — April 2, 1936 — I’m posting a poem I wrote about her that I read in this year’s Notre Dame Literary Festival.

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Today, Yaya would have been 76.

My grandmother, Dorothy Coyne, was one of the best people I’ve ever known. She wasn’t a stereotypical grandmother– we weren’t greeted in her house by the smell of baking cookies (she rarely baked) and her voice wasn’t hushed and gentle. She loved dancing and the bustle of cities. She hated the beach and staying on the phone any longer than was necessary. She was spunky, stylish and confident, and when she had an opinion she made sure it was heard. I admired those things about her.

I can look back to countless nights sitting around my grandparents’ kitchen table with my siblings or spread out across her plush brown carpet, listening to Yaya tell story after crazy story. Like the time in 9th grade the nuns caught her smoking in the bathroom, and she and her friends filled their mouths with powdered soap to mask the smell but ended up with foaming, bubbling mouths as they explained themselves before the principal. Somehow, her stories always reached  a level of pure absurdity; she’d have our entire family keeling over with laughter.

Those stories brought us together. Those stories were the best.

But above everything else, Yaya was a beautiful and loving woman, deeply committed to her family. Four years later, sitting around the kitchen table or spread out across that carpet, trying to imitate the high-pitched inflection of her voice, her stories still leave us hysterical with laughter.

We love and miss you, Yaya.


There are times I wonder:
had you dyed your hair
that mahogany-red
one last time,
would you still be
alive today?

Because once you let
that hair go dead and gray,
everything else followed.
spunky-bright cheeks
turned pale in submission,
spine collapsed beneath
the winter sky,
and withered fingers hung
from your hands like
dead leaves.

Yaya, if I could trace the
tracks of your spider-veins
back to the start of this nonsense—
I would.

Then, you could tell me
about the time
you poured shampoo
on Billy’s pancakes,
or when the
turned your hair
“freaking eggplant”

2 thoughts on “Tribute to Yaya

  1. Dear Sara,
    What a wonderful tribute to Yaya. You capture so vividly all those qualities that so endeared Yaya to all our hearts. Thank you for caring and for sharing your beautiful memories.
    Love Papa

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