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December Issue 2005
Lucille Lang Day and William Freedman
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Lucille Lang Day

Becoming an Ancestor

According to the dictionary, I’m not
an ancestor yet, only a grandparent
of a blond boy who clomps in his new sandals,
then throws me a ball covered with stars
and crescent moons like tiny smiles,
and a bow-legged baby girl with blue eyes,
all smiles herself in her hooded carrier
a child born the day my own grandfather
would have turned 130. He never knew
he had grandchildren, let alone great greats.

My own toddler days of warm cookies,
crayons and Betsy Wetsy dolls don’t seem
far away, but I am en route to becoming
an ancestor. Lucy and Ricky are dead.
Barbie is pushing fifty. Even the hippies
are history. When my grandchildren show
their grandchildren my photo in an old
album, I wonder what they’ll say.
That I swore like a trucker when I was hurt?
Blew like Vesuvius when I was mad?

They might recall I was always late, never
learned to knit or crochet, had brown hair,
couldn’t cook worth a damn but could carry
a tune, took poetry books everywhere,
liked to know birds and insects by name,
overreacted in both bad and good ways,
was unreasonably vain for someone my age,
had legs like a crane and liked to dance.


Return to Acushnet
To my mother, Evelyn Lang

I finally see your life
a page ripped from a book,
its meaning, emotions, intent
fragmentary and obscured.
I’ve found the town where you were born,
whose name you never told me,
and met the family you were torn from,
not as a baby
but as a child old enough to know
your mother was dead,
your father was letting you go.

I ran an ad to find descendants
of your father’s sisters.
One lived in a log cabin in Acushnet,
amid red maples, weeds, abandoned cars.
Her crazy brother lived alone next door
in the shingled farmhouse that belonged
to your grandparents when they were young
and raising children, chickens, pigs, and cows.

The fireflies in Massachusetts winked and glowed
in the elms in early summer,
constellations of memories
appearing and disappearing amid the leaves,
your life itself like a leaf
cleaved too soon from the tree.

Out back, a tractor sat rusting in tall grass
the carcass of an animal,
fossilized, extinct. The barn
had fallen down the year before. The porch
that used to wrap around the house
was gone. A notice in the window said
“Condemned.” The once grand stairs inside
were carpeted with dust. Paint peeled
from the walls; boxes, bags, and garbage
filled the rooms. I went upstairs:
I had to see it all. Pine floorboards
were loose, cobwebs everywhere.

I closed my eyes and saw bright quilts
where long ago your father’s sisters slept.
When I came back down,
Cousin Ken stared straight ahead
in the kitchen, trembling from his drugs.

Mother, eight years dead,
your father, aunts and uncle,
all long gone, are listed on the Internet.
Imagine it! Ernestine, born first,
watched the little ones: Valetta,
Harriet, and Mabel, who quilted, sang,
and put on plays; Rowland and your father,
Ebenezer, who liked to trick the girls.
The night I visited the house
where they were born, Grandpa Eb
appeared in a dream, lithe
and handsome, with his big mustache.

“Go back to California,” he said.
“I’ll come visit you.” I think he wanted
to stand beside me, watching
a Western gull, its pink feet
skimming the crests of the Pacific,
hear Hutton’s vireo call
from the top of a California oak, wrap
his taut arms tight around us both
like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to the mast,
but I knew in the end he’d let go.

 

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William Freedman

Portrait of the Monarch as a Young Caterpillar


Only where the caterpillars
have eaten green away
can we see the delicate
lacy trelliswork that makes them leaves.
They require this nutriment,
yellow bodies bright against the green
to frogs and birds
for the long enshrouded sleep.
When they emerge,
the wings of the more beautiful
bear the markings of the fragile
skeleton their driven youthful
hunger left behind.

 

 

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Contributors' Notes

Lucille Lang Day: “Becoming an Ancestor” and “Return to Acushnet" are from an in-progress collection about family and ancestors. Five poems from this collection will appear in the first issue of Wild Goose Poetry Review.

Day's first children’s book, Chain Letter, was published by Heyday Books this fall. Heyday will also be publishing her teen mother memoir in 2007.  New poetry is appearing or upcoming in The DMQ Review, The Eleventh Muse, The Hudson Review, Parthenon West Review, Poetry Midwest, Psychological Perspectives, Quercus Review, River Styx, Tar River Poetry, and ZYZZYVA.

William Freedman's poetry has appeared in APR, The Antioch Review, Shenandoah, The Quarterly, International Quarterly, The Nation, Dalhousie Review, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review and elsewhere. Email William Freedman.