I thought I had already written a poem called “Inheritance”, but apparently not. This is for Donna‘s prompt to write about one of the seven deadly sins as it relates to relative, and/or something inherited from a relative. (I didn’t get very inventive with the title.) It’s a pretty straightforward post-immigrant experience, I think, to have the narrative of “I came here with nothing so I could give my children a better life.” (And for more recent generations, the narrative is still going.) That’s the American rags-to-riches thing, anyway, I guess. But I think there is a “good” kind of greed: when you have nothing, and you want to give your children more than you have, you try to take in as much as you can. I don’t have kids, though, so maybe I’m fooling myself. :)

Khara House‘s challenge is still going, too. I’m working my way around the alphabet… so far I’ve submitted to journals starting with B, C, E, F, J, K, Q, U, V, W, X, Y, Z. I figure those are the tough letters; now I’ll move on to the more common ones. Here are a few important lessons that have come out of the experience at the halfway point:
– You always have more poems than you think you do lying around.
– Paradoxically, you never have as many as you think you do, because once you start reading them, you say, “I could never submit this anywhere.” But that really gets you into a good editor mode; there are several that I gutted and re-built over the course of this challenge.
– Simultaneous submissions are great, but exercise caution. The rule of thumb I’ve been using is, one poem should never be submitted to more than two journals, and no journal should have more than one poem being submitted elsewhere. What if you send the same five poems to five journals (thinking they’ll each take one), and they all only want the same one? S.O.L., that’s what.
– Putting together a submission takes roughly twice as long as it took to write the stuff. Ugh.
– In browsing a journal to get a sense of what they want, you read and discover some truly great poets. You also find some truly awful ones, who you can’t figure out how they got published. And you notice some names popping up again and again; I won’t say who. They know who they are. (Have they appeared in Curio? Just maybe!)


Our great-grandparents went from nothing
to nothing. We have tattered photographs
smelling like an endless sea, from which
they refuse to blink. They tucked

whole histories into their apron pockets,
hefted the weight of a thousand people
on desperate shoulders. Nothing is stronger
than want– except for the desire

to give. Our great-grandparents already had
crow’s feet in their teenage faces, spelling out
children’s names. What can’t be bought or
sold becomes priceless. Now

we bear the same squint; we look, and
we say, I will take this and give it away.
Our photographs will not smell of salt,
but of forests, slowly, slowly built.

16 thoughts on “Inheritance

  1. Really nice. I’m working on Donna’s prompt as well. Love your thoughts on this subject.

  2. Joephs, this is stunningly beautiful.

  3. oops, of course I meant Joseph. Cursed fingers.

  4. I recognise this scenario!…we are building up again…love the lines…they tucked whole histories into their apron pocket…brilliant

  5. It’s the way of the world, the desire to give our children more than we ever had… now I wonder what more could they possibly need… but love we have so much that we just throw away. As you say, our great grandparents had crows feet in their teenage years. Very much enjoyed.

  6. brian miller says:

    nice…i like the forests slowly built and how that differs from the sweat of our grandfathers….had one that was a seed salesman…and another that ran a grocery and was a fireman…

  7. Love the photos smelling of the sea – wonderful images in this beautiful poem! K

  8. Sabio Lantz says:

    Fairly easily understood after the intro. Some I lines were a puzzle even with the intro. A small essay about your views about the different generations would be fun to hear too.

  9. Kim Nelson says:

    I often find enjambment uncomfortable, but not in this case. The breaks make sense, giving more meaning to your words and the tale you tell. Nice writing to convey the passing of generations and changing — or not — of circumstance.

  10. vivinfrance says:

    Like the passing of time, sometimes slow, sometimes racing, so the mind of Joseph Harker distils American history into a family story. Beautiful.

  11. Joseph, there is indeed so much in the passing of parents; mine went four months apart, and we three girls were PTSD to the max (but I went to a therapist, which helped). Chinese proverb: “You never truly know a person until you have shared an inheritance with her/him…” So true. They wanted the fancy stuff. I took the kitchen table, worth nothing, covered with cigarette burns from years of poker playing.

    This was touching, Joseph, and a nice last reading as I embark on two weeks in my old stomping grounds, Sta. Monica and Venice, CA,. to see Riley and a bunch of cool friends! Love, Amy

  12. What a beautiful, tremendous poem! Yes, the legacy our fathers and their fathers left for us is something they planted, a forest of generations…. Beautiful thoughts and extremely well written….. Thank you for sharing this

  13. Dhyan says:

    tattered photographs
    smelling like an endless sea

    – so beautiful Joseph. If you have already another poem titled like this one – I don’t care if you will have ten of them…

  14. Dhyan says:

    I don’t fully agree about the sim subs. I rather have one in five and solve that than none in none.

    great observation about the submitting time. Another reason I many times take on groups I have submitted, change one or two and send it again to another.

  15. Such a gorgeous line, children’s names in the crow’s feet. I like how this poem celebrates selfless sacrifice for the future rather than the me-centered culture the media seems to feed us. Many still understand a life is not a sole possession. I also so appreciate the comments made re. poetry submissions, especially the finding of some truly great poems when grazing poetry journals. Best of luck with submissions.

  16. Val: hope they helped…
    Susan: no worries, I understood. :)
    Geraldine: glad you liked it!
    Panda: I say all of this without being a parent, so I hope that if I am a parent one day, I’ll know what I’m talking about firsthand. Sentiment: done best when you have no experience at all with it. ;)
    Brian: one of mine was a soda jerk, jazz musician, WW2 recon photographer, and machinist. The others are mysteries.
    K: thanks very much!
    Sabio: oh man, I don’t have time for essays. Preambles to poems are all I can manage.
    Kim: of course, enjambment is necessary before the line gets too long. But of equal course, knowing when to place the break is a tricky skill; this is (in my opinion) one of my more successful attempts.
    Viv: “Joseph Harker… IS… AMERICA.” ;p
    Amy: my mother’s parents (who lived with us, and who I was closest to) passed away a few years ago, within six weeks of each other after 65 years of marriage. I have yet to meet two people more selfless, and suspect I never will.
    John: thanks very much!
    Guy: perhaps I will write another nine, and call it a “series”?
    HFWZ: I liked that image too, although I’m not convinced I wrote it in the best way…

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