Alabama

(Unpublished) #Poem: “The Greatest Unknown”

I wrote this poem in early 2009, when my father first gave me all of the family history materials that form the basis for the “Chasing Ghosts” series of posts.

The Greatest Unknown

I reach out for them, back
into time and all of them
scatter like fish in murky
water, seeming gone but
just deep and hidden and
indifferent.

Their skulls are also mine,
And their hands, eyes, skin,
and ideals. My father never
talked about his people. Mom
didn’t either. Now, because
those men and women didn’t
know me, I don’t get to know
them.

Now that Mom and Dad are
getting older, they do talk
some. Dad’s mother loved
nandinas, and Mom’s grew
up on a farm where she was
too allergic to go into the
barn at all. Small tantalizing
pieces . . .

I have their facts in books –
lists of names and dates –
that tell me more about their
comings and goings than of
good cooking or bad habits.
All reduced to entries in a
ledger.

Grandfathers, grandmothers . . .
what would I have called you?
Maybe Grampa Or MawMaw.
You distant aunts, uncles, cousins:
you are gray or sepia, and well-
dressed, and hazy, and without
smiles.

* * *

Previous posts:

Unpublished Poem #1: “Prairie Mud”

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