There is a father with my face
in my first city, his girl not me
adopted from a village
of cornmeal and skulls
while I, downtown bastard, slept.
She never stole my wrong-
I did not button down her wedding dress.
There is a grandfather who made
headlines for a bad reason,
his widow who admitted nothing
such as me.
Though I was stewed in love
my mother’s recipes choked: sugar-thick
grit of wine, schmaltz, milk curds, ash.
Behind barbed wire of love
was nursed a chosen hollow.
There was a grandfather who beat
his three children mad.
There was a grandmother who fed me with fat.
She told fairy tales till she wept to death,
leaving me one nameless
photo of her sister, lost
to the Nazis, playing the violin.
There were aunts and cousins who turned away
into righteous marriages.
There was a woman in boots my mother
would not admit touching.
Her broad hands shook the sand from my hair,
taught me fractions and cutting raw chicken,
couldn’t teach me to drive.
She was a secret from ourselves,
paying for a home she couldn’t say she lived in.
There were her parents and her children
and her husband and her friends
and then there were not.
It’s said, by families reset
to grave-naked liberty by burn or river rising,
the ritual junk of generations is what’s most missed:
that map grandfather sweated
into the stained prayer shawl,
uncaptioned carousel of slides,
a beautiful dead cousin’s strands
still nested in her veil.
Every guitar, said my father
the collector, the next to the last time
he took me to dinner alone,
is unique as a woman,
meaning unless it sings
beneath your testing touch,
don’t bring it home.