Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ancestors Are Not Sated

Clinging to red-streaked rock, their numbers grow. They have survived in me and I am all too quick to reduce them, what cobwebs of memory I have evaporated under the chilly April sunshine, yesterday my birthday, the beginning of my 27th year, on a day when I am alive and they are not.

I celebrate that I am alive but I know I will be dead soon too. Soon even if it is another 60 years. I have already led dozens of lives as dozens of different people, all in this serviceable body that has born the same name (more or less) for 27 years. If I were a dog or cat, I would most likely be dead and reborn twice over in this time. What I am trying to say is that I don’t know what to make of life. I could be dead at any minute or slowly and what does that mean? I know things, I have inklings, I hear whispers and feel glowing warmth and the firm tugging of invisible strings all the time. I know the unseen world is teeming, know the unknown outnumbers the body of facts we’ve assimilated by a thousand-fold. But it’s the blackness that scares me, the thought of being two sightless, bodiless eyes in a vat of nothingness, unceasing nothingness. Where do we come from, really? Where do we go? When I set about the dirty and glorious work of saving myself, am I saving the ancestors too? Perhaps back through time… I feel them heave great breaths sometimes, loosening, untying their tight and ragged knots.

This morning standing in moccasins and a big gray sweater at the stove, stirring together broccoli and mushrooms, potatoes and eggs, boiling water in the tarnished kettle for coffee with fresh raw Jersey milk, I surfaced a memory, a tucked and guarded secret story, the one about my great-grandfather who was in the Klan. If I tell most people, they will unleash their horror, curl their lips, show the whites of their eyes. No one likes to be found guilty of carrying their country’s history. How easy it would be to travel light, pretend that your family tree began with just your grandparents, and maybe they didn’t really have much influence on you anyway.

But somehow my great-grandfather’s deep fear and neurosis spawned a child that deeply cared about his secret Cherokee roots, worked for fair housing in the 1950s, spawned a grandchild who walked side by side with Martin Luther King Jr., another who married a black man and then spent much of her life after 50 trying to heal her own internalized racism.

And the grandchild stirring broccoli. It would be easy to spit water and gaze innocent at myself in the mirror as I brush my teeth. But I have a survived knowledge of responsibility, backwards and forwards throughout the crook of time, a knowledge that will not let me evaporate before I bring healing.


  1. Beautiful writing!!

    Was this Grandpa JA's father, the one that set up "revivals"? The uber religious one?

  2. Thank you! Yes this was Grandpa Jesse's father, but I hadn't heard the story about the revivals, just that their family were Pentacostalists. The religious fanaticism definitely seems like it would relate to the Klan membership.

    I'd love to hear any more stories you have about this!