Walking down the helical road, untwisting as you go you discover places you never imaginged visiting, nothing like the path you thought you knew well.
Stop and claim your new heritage, find yourself on an alien map, bury yourself in books of new and ancient history.
Pause here and consider a King of Scotland, knights and lords, in the far distance know that you claim a link to a man so honored that he died by hanging, but was then beheaded and drawn and quartered.
Too late to unswab your cheek, so simply enjoy your ride.
This is what I would tell my sons: “You came from an ancient people, a heritage of poets and tailors, or thieves and blasphemers, of callous men and slaughtered children. I would give you these books, written by God, some have said, although I am doubtful but driven by Erato, without doubt.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “I didn’t go to war — there were so many options and I chose one where my feet would touch only Texas mud, where the only bullets were quickly fired on the rifle range. I wasn’t one of the 56,000. I didn’t come home in a body bag. But I do stop at the Wall each time I visit D.C. and say farewell to those who did.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You have never known the hunger for a scrap of bread pulled from a dumpster, you have never spent a night on a steam grate hiding under yesterday’s newspapers from the rapidly falling snow. You never stood nervously at the waiting room of a dingy clinic waiting for a young, uncaring doctor to announce that antibiotics would likely clear up the infection but you should avoid any form of sex for a couple of weeks.”
This is what I would tell my sons: “You come from a heritage of poets.”
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008
It’s difficult enough, Mom, that I never got to meet you, to see your face save in a college yearbook, to have only a few relatives acknowledge my existence despite the DNA test that clearly links us, one to the other. What makes it more difficult is trying to figure out my heritage, my geographic roots before our family arrived in West Virginia, back in the old country which for most was Lithuania, but for some Poland and still others Russia, as though their village was loaded onto a horsecart and dragged around Eastern Europe always heading to the next pogrom. Couldn’t our place have settled on a country, rather than riding the tides of the insanity the leaders then?
It is just that sort of summer day when the sparse clouds crawl ever more slowly across the city, peering down, as if wishing they could end their journey, knowing this won’t happen. On the fields of Falkirk and Culloden Moor stained with the blood of ancestors who, only now, claim me as one of them, allow me to wear the tartan, the clouds build and flee without ever pausing to peer down on the carnage below. They want only to move on, continue the passage, give endless chase to the sun, certain they will fail and fall, only to take up the chase again onward into eternity.
There is a statue of William Penn atop the city hall in Philadelphia seeming to stare down over the city with bronze eyes incapable of seeing. Hagar wandered the wilderness after she was evicted by Abraham at Sarah’s urging, the price of jealousy, with bread and water and the promise of a great nation. It is pure speculation whether Hagar was enslaved and freed or, as we would claim it today, employed by the family. In the end the distinction matters little. Penn remains blind atop the building Hagar and Ishmael are long dead, and Jefferson likely had children with one of his slaves, or so the DNA evidence indicates. I am of Norwegian and Scottish patrilineal heritage it appears though my great nation is a six year old girl and almost three year old boy.
He says that in his prior life, this being second he knows of, he was Japanese, although he did have a cousin in China, but he doesn’t know his name anymore. He wasn’t there for the war with Okinawa, but he knows that karate was developed then, and it’s why, in this life he studies karate, because it’s part of his heritage. He says he has many more stories to tell of his prior life, he remembers it quite well, but that’s all he will tell us today, for a six-year-old needs to dole out stories slowly.