Let’s get personal!

Donna asks us to think about heritage this week, particularly to talk about a grandparent and/or an aspect of heritage (ethnic, familial, or otherwise). I thought about how most of the time I talk about my grandparents, I’m talking about my mother’s parents. For clear reasons: they were frequently involved in our lives, and lived with us for several years while I was in high school/college. My father’s mother I saw relatively often; and his grandmother (which could be the source of a particular pen name); but my father’s father is almost completely absent from my memory.

Without getting too into details, there are a few elements of that branch in my history that I acknowledge and am grateful for: all the threads of old genealogy that we can trace back way far are through him, and the stories carried with them. (Supposedly there’s some nobility back there.) He, his father, and his brother are associated with particular times/places in my youth. And obviously, there’s the name bit that they all share with me. But these are not elements that make up a person or what I could consider a real familial relationship. It’s close enough that I don’t feel regret about the distant shape the connection took, but far enough that there’s no close connection to it.

What’s interesting is that when I talk to other members of my family (siblings and otherwise), I think we all have very different approaches to this part of the tree. The majority of my feelings are summed up by memories of family reunions, half-remembered stories, and images that bely them. I guess that relationships, like stories, look different depending on who’s seeing them.


I knew a man with thunder in his fingers,
flipped like a coin trick over old gnarled knuckles

who always stood silently
in the next room, waiting but not expecting:
he could not divorce the legend of himself,
steeped in brine.

I heard stories about the fathers of our fathers,
turning their backs on the heeling sunrise

and unraveling all the gold
wefting their veins: what do you have left
but gunpowder and a memory that smolders
in the deep, damp dark?

I spoke once with a man who shared
the heraldry of my eyebrows, my narrow jaws,

but I can’t recall that we talked
about anything worth repeating: he floated
his name down the river, and I caught it,
small and quivering,

with both hands. Behind the rough levee,
he shuttered and did not offer anything else.

2 thoughts on “Patrilineal

  1. Yousei Hime says:

    One of my favorites, instantly. There is something about knowing and not knowing family. The mystery of ancestry…it lured my father along for many years, and I have his documentation (somewhere) to pick up the trail. I love the glimpses of a man unfamiliar yet too well known. :)

  2. vivinfrance says:

    A beautiful piece of writing, especially “he floated his name down the river, and I caught it, small and quivering,”

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