Old Orphan

They’re over on my dresser, simply framed
And looking 1940s fresh and young.
There’s something to them holy and unnamed,
Some song inside them waiting to be sung.
And I their youngest, young no more at all,
On days I feel a bit the worse for wear,
Before their photo humbly stand and call
Upon them in a faint ancestral prayer.
I pray that I might kindly be restored
To that simplicity of love so dear
That all our warmest moments once availed,
Brought all our wayward ones into accord;
And thus relieved be of the orphan fear
That tenderness in life has somehow failed.



Jeffrey Essmann is an essayist and poet living in New York. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, among them Agape Review, America Magazine, Dappled Things, the St. Austin Review, U.S. Catholic, Grand Little Things, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate. He is editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.

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13 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I take “Old Orphan” as a sweet tribute to natural parents that are no longer with us.

  2. Tiree MacGregor

    A commendable tribute and prayer, Mr. Essmann, the language appropriately plain, the metre controlled. And the “orphan fear” of the last line is memorable.

  3. Sally Cook

    Dear Mr. Essman –
    I have the same feelings when I look at the photos my father and grandfather took, and remember how they would wait, sometimes for an hour or more, until the shadows were such that they might take a good photo.

    This was because film was not plentiful and owning a camera was a bit of an event.

    Now, pointing a phone is all you need to do, and what you get is uniformly badly composed and bland.

    Then, even studio photos intrinsically held meaning. as did so much else.
    Where did all the meaning go? And why? What are we doing to ourselves?
    These are all poetic questions, one of which you have answered veryi well in your poem. Thank you.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is extremely moving, beginning with the title. I recall my mom saying that she was an orphan after her parents died. “And I their youngest, young no more at all” is an exquisite line, partly because it echoes such a universal sadness.

  5. Margaret Coats

    We do usually think of an orphan as young but, Jeffrey, you justify the title here, as well as pay your parents a great tribute, by the sonnet’s last line. That line names the more profound quality that makes a person an orphan–the feeling that all tenderness in life has failed because of the death of parents. The sonnet is thus admirably constructed, and we readers are aware that its author was certainly not an orphan when he was young.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    As another geriatric orphan, Jeffrey, I do find it strange that my mind takes similar turns on occasion, and my feelings on this are always bittersweet.

  7. Paul Freeman

    Wow, remind me not to read poems on my phone. Re-read on the big screen, you took all the Oscars for this gem, Jeff.

  8. Cheryl Corey

    I love the line, “Some song inside them waiting to be sung”.

  9. Jeffrey J Essmann

    Thank you all for your very kind responses to my work. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks again, Jeffrey

  10. Norma Pain

    This is a beautiful poem Jeffrey. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    From the intrigue of the title to the beauty and hope of the closing lines, this well wrought, heartfelt piece has struck a chord with me. These lines speak to me:

    On days I feel a bit the worse for wear,
    Before their photo humbly stand and call
    Upon them in a faint ancestral prayer.

    I have a picture of my grandparents in my hall, and I do exactly the same. This poem is lovely! Thank you, Jeffrey.

  12. Patricia Allred

    Oh, I know that heeling,after both parents passed, I felt an orphan on earth. Decades have passed, but that feeling never left.
    I have tons of photos, too. It’s a joy to see what once was, yet ….Wordsworth’s lines that we cannot bring back the splendor in the grass nor glory in the flower, ring true for me.I have known many great people.
    But none with the humility and magnanimity of my parents.
    Your poem touched a blessed chord in me,
    Thank you.!



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