March 10, 2020

I am from

Detail from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image

A friend requested “I am from” poems for her birthday. Here’s mine.

Where I’m From

I am from my little red notebook,
from Cheez-Whiz and Cheetos—
I am from a house among trees
(bright, blue-green, whirring my soul like a cat purr),
from a redwood tree,
softly barked and towering
and not like any tree
that grows wild
in Sweden—

I am from Svensk julskinka and a love of music,
From Dorothy
and Erik,
the smart
and the crazy,
the crazy
and the smart,
from suicide
and salt of the Earth,
from “There but for the grace of God go I” and
“Never play a game you can’t win,”
from atheist Lutherans who Christen their babies, from
lapsed Southern Baptists, stripe-changers, back-pocket-God
believers, earnest seekers
who dance
(though it’s of the devil)—

Jag föddes i Linköping, down south,
but my blood comes from parts so far north that
subsistence farmers like my ancestors barely made it—
I am from fisk och potatis, blodpudding, and
Green Bower Strother and Daniel McCullough,
my American 3rd-great-grandfathers
who were not poor, because they owned
I’m from John “Jack” Snead and O. B. Nance,
my American 3rd-great-grandfathers
whose parents and ancestors owned
and I’m from my 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-great-grandmothers
whose hands are also stained with that
special kind of blood, and
the William Strother Society database that lists
thousands of us including presidents and whatnot, wow,
descended from a white immigrant
who settled in Virginia in the 1600s—

I’m from records written in the ancient bible
in Stensele kyrka
the oldest wooden church in Sweden, 
from names back to the 1400s, my people,
and many