February 7, 2017

Jeffery Bahr

GENEALOGY

Outside, it’s cold like the day
my father’s grandpa drowned
while Sigrid salted cod on walls
of stacked antlers. Their sons
and daughter fled to Eden
Prairie. One, my father’s uncle, lost
a claim in Manitoba, another crashed
a Hupmobile. One died ice-fishing.

My father’s mother, pink and vicious, made
him cover the bidet with plywood
when we lived in Tehran. Made me drive
all over Fairfax County in search
of Carnival glass. Told me “Never
marry a woman for her looks.” My mother’s
dad lost his lungs to mustard gas. Her mom

never gambled. Betty lived in Hollywood
working at the studios, roller-skating
with a man who would later play
Tonto. She rented a room
in a house with a victory garden until
the Tamuras were shipped
to Utah, then married Dad, who left
to kill Koreans. On the ship

to Japan to join him in Kobe, my sister
scared me with stories of dwarves. My children’s
mom is small and pale, like the pages
of an appointment book, except when speaking
Spanish. Then, her hands become larakeets, her eyes
marcasite. Her grandfather knew the Franks
before they moved to Holland, and he
to Pasadena, where he never met

my mother who skis like she’s waltzing,
or my father, who came home and built
a barbeque of brick, or my sister the shrink,
or my brother who sells drugs, or my other sister
for that matter. They all live
in California and no one
ever dies. There’s a boy

at the bus stop who dances
in place: knit cap, heavy coat, an extra
chromosome, perhaps. Sometimes he raises
his arms and spins. The world starts with him.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001

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Jeffery Bahr: “The three strongest influences on my writing have been Ted Hughes, Billy Collins, and Jorie Graham, which I think says something about my literary schizophrenia.” (website)