I sit on the bones of my pelvis
wondering if you looked into my eyes
you’d see an explanation,
a daughter you’d recognize.
You would know me by my hands adept with tools.
You’d hear me singing with my friends,
watch me bounce my baby nephew on my knee.
You could meet me on a summer morning,
help me gather arnica and goosefoot greens.
So much I want to know of you:
did you fish for termites, crack nuts, chew leaves,
pull strips of flesh from antelopes and birds?
Did you awaken stiff and scared from twitching dreams?
I would tell you that when I wake from mine,
I remember my Nana’s lullabies;
I want to know if someone sang for you.
What did you make of your life?
What did you understand?
When it came your time to die, were you afraid?
Were you surprised?
Your Great Rift Valley was a careless archivist:
in her sandstone house she stashed
scrapbooks of mysteries,
a trunk of discarded fashions.
She tossed the crumbled pages
of your story in the river, to the wind.
Some artist made a grinning baby
of that ball of bones
from Afar’s nipple-pointed hills:
knees, milk teeth, tiny toes,
one finger curled, brown skull
returning from the dust.
Through dust of volcanoes
on feet like mine your people walked.
I would like to walk
into your landscape:
the yellow grass and scrub,
the seeps and gullies of home.
In this cold land of glacial till
and blue lake bottom clay
I press my feet into ground,
footbones with their musical names:
talus, calcaneus, cuboid, navicular,
cuneiform, metatarsal, infantry of phalanges.
Across years and continents
these bones have arched their way.
Southern Ape from Afar,
where have we arrived,
our footprints everywhere?
We trail white vapor through the skies;
broken machines encircle us,
the crawling increase of our kind.
We’ve made our own volcanic air.
Our children are sorted into rooms,
our babies lie crying, all alone.
We make beautiful and deadly tools.
Our music would break your heart.
Our lives shatter, our bones come apart.
Brooding over you, I dreamed
I lost my way. I stopped
at a café where they were butchering
a road-kill fawn. A baby escaped
from my suitcase. I had to walk
home in the dark and I could
not find my shoes.
My journals are out of order,
unsorted letters in shoeboxes.
Unnamed ancestors smile in sepia.
In one musty drawer I keep an envelope
with two baby teeth, a cheap bracelet,
my grandmother’s amber beads.
Now that I am old,
I need a Nana most of all
to sit with in the dappled shade,
to speak of things encrypted
under layers of language,
this endless chatter in my enormous brain.
I cannot look too long
in any eyes. Before I see
the hawk, I feel its gaze.
There is something wholesome
in the taste of green.
I lie awake when the moon is full
and when the moon is new.
I remember where the plums
and wild asparagus grow.
Even now I know by smell
when the snow will come.
How hard, to evolve,
walk down across the land,
feel the twinges of selection:
bones growing longer,
speech changing the brain.
All around the world is turning,
brown and yellow and green.
Stars change the sky.
Do you remember?
Did you know?
Out of time, you walk with me
toward an Earth
as strange and familiar
as that house I sometimes dream
where once we lived,
that house I’ve never seen. .
~ for Barbara J. King
July 5, 2007