Mary Coston Wise: A Lament

Mary Coston Wise: A Lament October 21, 2019

I had not seen a photo of my grandmother, Mary Coston Wise until last week when her graduation photo was discovered tucked away in an old shoebox. It was 1935 and planting season in Accomack County, Virginia. While farmers tilled soil and sowed their seed Mary Coston’s hands knew no calluses. She was a student who excelled academically and completed high school early. Mary married her beloved Robert Wise and gave birth to three sons, Robert Jr., Edward, and Curtis. Soon a tuberculosis outbreak ran throughout the county leaving devastation in its wake. On a frigid morning in December 1939 at 2:20am Robert passed away and, baby Curtis soon followed. In November 1940, two days before Thanksgiving and on the day that the new TB hospital for coloreds had a vacant bed, Mary passed away. She was 22 years, 4 months, and 9 days old. 


Finally, I see you.

Weathered black, white

shades of brown.

I weep from longing.


You are eighteen

with furrowed brow

wearing your Sunday best.


It’s Accomack County graduation day,

1935. Did you know your arms,

legs crossed, could not shield you

from past, present, future tense?


Did you know your marriage

ends in sweating, coughing,

fever, shaking?


Did you know hospitals are for whites only.

Your uncle, husband, baby boy gone, then you.

Your orphan sons left motherless, aching.


Did you know one day

I’d see you and lament

countless ancestors sacrificed?


Did you know today

I’d seek repair

for countless ancestors sacrificed?


About Sheila Wise Rowe
Sheila Wise Rowe is the author of Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience (IV Press) to be released January 7, 2020. The book exposes the symptoms of racial trauma to lead people of color to a place of healing from the past and resilience for the future. Sheila holds a Masters degree in Counseling and for over twenty-five years has been a gifted writer, counselor, educator, and spiritual director. Sheila co-launched The Cyrene Movement an online space for people of color to heal from racial trauma, realize their potential and reconcile communities. For more information visit:, You can read more about the author here.
"As a prodigal myself, I take comfort and encouragement from your story. It can be ..."

Gratitude for a Grievous Gift – ..."
"Thanks for bringing this passage to life, and for writing with such generous emotion."

#Me Too, Jesus
"Thanks Alex for the recco.! I will look into their Kidney care dry food. Might ..."

Wet Dog Food, Love and Prolonging ..."
"A lot of people have this misconception that wet dog food is better than dry ..."

Wet Dog Food, Love and Prolonging ..."

Browse Our Archives