This poem is about my mother, Ruth Alice Holthouse O’Dowd, who died on December 29, 2015. It is dedicated to my sister Amy O’Dowd. For an audio version, click play below.


You were my little girl on the big train
her daddy said in a letter
I waved until I couldn’t see you anymore
we can’t wait for you to come back to us

The train brings ‘round
a young lady
falls in love as one would do
all is grand with her man
five babies make a home
and friends too

The train has stopped at summer time
trees are leafy and roses in bloom
we’re home from a day at the pool with the Clemens girls
she makes me a snack to tide me over
safe and innocent
on the shady back porch
it’s quiet but for the flirting of birds and boys on bicycles

I sit, calm, on our perfect day
and watch her make dinner through the window screen

All aboard, family
for a voyage to the sea
we catch waves and get sunburns
baby turtles hatch and scramble to the shore
she toasts to the curve of the Earth
as a star makes its own arc over the horizon
it’s her mother
we’re sure

Life takes turns like the train and her children make their way
we enter gay Paris
just mother and me
the smells and sounds are new
world, how do you do?
we eat cheese sandwiches in the park by the Picasso museum
it’s clear as day
like yesterday
she’s a dream weaver
dream believer
she writes “fly on your own wings” on birthday cards

But trains enter storms
and ours does, too
thick fog and hail so hard it hurts
stay strong
she says
smile through the rain

I’ll try, mom, I say
I don’t know how to always be like you
if you ever had a dark side it was on the other side of the moon


A frail lady looking back

The train travels in and out of memory
martinis and buffet tables, cigarettes on the back porch
history lessons and hockey games
her son is in the penalty box again
the sound of Chuck Mangione’s trumpet at the neighbor’s
frees the air
there were grand moments like that

It’s a ride of a lifetime
the infinity train
she has a reservation in the club car
true to fashion
her man and co. are in tow

I sprint alongside
my heart bursts to keep up
stay strong through the storm
smile through the rain

I say, just one more time
one more time the warm hand

The pavement under my feet gives way to a field
of wild grasses
and dandelions
like the ones on the side of our family’s house
the train curves at the bend and I lose sight
her train window has become the screen window of my mind
I know she’s waving
I’m sure

© Sally O’Dowd
January 4, 2016

4 thoughts on “Window by Sally O’Dowd

  1. Frank and Mae says:

    Hi Sally have just listened to and read your poem in the back room of my Mam’s house in Artane. We loved it but also found it very moving. It captures perfectly the whole feeling of loss when a loved one passes on . In your own words, Sally, stay strong and lots of love Frank and Mae .

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