Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Genealogy


Part of me had names like Zephaniah, Ebenezer, Alrick and Epenetus;
Part of me came from the sands of Dornoch and the Outer Hebrides
and the weirs of Ware, West Hertfordshire;
Part of me landed in Boston in 1631, New Haven in 1638,
Cambridge in 1643, and Kennebunk in 1766;
Part of me was a brigade surgeon for Washington at Yorktown
and White Plains,
Another part raised the first company on Long Island;
Part of me studied with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brother,
Another got rich building ships upriver or sending logs from
Cornwall to Montreal;
Part of me was in the Continental Congress, or got Plattsburgh
named for me;
Another part gave sermons to Puritans every Sunday, or was selectman
in Kent and Constable;
Farmed 84 acres in Milford, or turned virgin soil in what is now
Topsfield…


It’s all on the chart, with a straight line to me,
With names like Hovey, Man, Platt and McCulloch,
The first practical electric light, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hills,
The only Cabinet Secretary to serve under three Presidents...
And this is just on my maternal grandfather’s side,
I can’t wait 'til I get to the less confident charts
Where the horsethieves and opium addicts reside,
On the branches of the tree that love has taken down,
The fathers who never knew their fathers,
The mothers who were too ashamed to re-marry,
The bad gay poet expunged from the memories,
And all the other kinds of failure: the squandering of fortunes,
The pre-fab homes in Florida 50 years before their time,
The 10 Hobbesian lives for every enlightened Hume one.


I’ve done all that too, I don’t have to relive it,
The legacy I’m born with is merely that freedom
Handed down from choices on the thousand forking surnames
That ineluctably lead to Genghis Khan, the father of us all.
I am related to you somehow, you too are my blood;
Let’s visit a while, have some brandy from the snifter,
Pose for pictures by the sword of 1812, reminisce
About the witch trials, Indian Wars and the pilfered family silver,
The Old Country where they still leave a place for us at the table.

2 comments:

Rusty Kjarvik said...

I enjoy this piece, you always manage to maintain a tasteful punch, like the squirt of an eye milked of all sleepless savagery in the cold alcoholic New England dawn. How important it is to transcend linear chronology, especially insinuating in our skewered Roman lineages, subject to hordes and the like, a breathable trauma transfixed on the confidence of survival in the human world. How eloquent and passionate is your nostalgia to bend the laws of collective memory into a personified host of inimitable universal laws, bursting forth through our every human record with the mysterious undoing which resides at the core of all human experience. Though in combing the spread wings of circular flight past our anthropocentric ideologies, we may transmigrate beyond the folds of an extra-evolutionary becoming, bringing us then around to the archaic beginning of identity, or as I wrote tonight, "our sound ancestry"

I once wrote something called "Divorce & Diaspora" about this as well, on my "Exotic Settlers" collection.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Oh, I love this! It's begging for the illustrated version...