Blood & Future
Published in Everyone's a fucking poet! 1995
Today I bury my grandfather. Will my own parents fall into the grave, leaving only one vessel, one generation of family, for the bloodline -- not just the blood, but the history, a story of ritual, culture, pride -- our own misappropriation of heritage? It's raining. I've dressed for the weather, but totally unprepared for the future, which asks for foundation and receives a hole in the ground, as if all replies follow corpses and inscribe their names on indistinct tombstones. I want to go out in flames, I think to myself as the rain saturates my hat, determined to wash away the smell of Death and preserve my sweet crisis. Grandfather waits patiently; Mother and Father stand nervously on the lawn like a padlock that connects the ends of a long chain. I was born, as all children are, in the shape of a key.II.
America -- what does it mean...to be soup? We identify with the Irish potatoes, the English lamb, French wine, Italian spices. Are we the broth, which had no history before the recipe began to simmer? I abandon my stew and sweat in my trenchcoat. I am here to bury my grandfather, who ate steak and eggs every day for breakfast. There's an old clan crest on the front of my beret, an upward hand holding a star, surrounded by a circle containing the phrase -- in incorrect Latin -- "Sola Virtus Nobilitat." This is my strongest tie to Scotland: I don't know what it means. It gives me no strength, I take no pride, and virtue, I believe, is not passed through DNA or jewelry. But it's a beautiful pin.III.
What color is my skin? What color are my thoughts? I went to college. I can't change that. In philosophy, they call this contingency. It has a body, and I have a body, and when I look in the mirror, it calls out the name of my great-great-grandfather, it calls the name of my great-grandmother, it calls out for my grandfather, my mother, my father, and when it gets to my name I have already left the bathroom and shut the door. I have a list of pseudonyms that compel me to constantly recreate myself, and one of them drives me to my grandfather's funeral, where a host of familiar faces will insist that I have a real name, that I have a past that reaches back long before I was born, that I carry a weightless force in my blood. Contingency. None of this will tell me what to do when I wake up in the morning, grandfatherless, perhaps only a memory of mother and father, an image of them standing at the edge of the grave saying "Do I dare?" and "Do I dare?" They could, voluntarily, shove off this world, throw themselves into the words I hear in my head: Jump. I will forever belong to my own possibilities. Would I be responsible? Yes and no. There is no confusion here, between the symbolic and the real; their choice is real, and it is my choice. Because family names are passed down and registered like history is recorded as truth. And then history is rewritten as truth, and truth is rewritten and history disappears: names can be changed. Mother? Father? I will carry your blood to my death, but I've given some to people I may never meet. I cover beautiful green eyes with corrective blue lenses. I die my hair and I've been a vegetarian for as long as I've cooked my own food. I don't speak Gaelic and the Protestant Church doesn't protest enough for me. The privilege that paid for my education drives shivers down my cultural spine. So jump, symbolically. I'll still love you, if I ever did. It's not a biological function, after all.IV.
Once upon a time there lived a man. His father had been white, his mother, black. At the age of one month, he was put up for adoption and taken in by a family of practicing Hindus. In this environment, he grew to the age of sixteen years and then, having befriended an old Tibetan man who sought refuge in America from the invasive Chinese Army, he converted to strict Buddhism. Day and night he practiced mediatation, studied Buddhist logic, reflected on the teachings of the Dalai Lama, and finally left for Nepal to discipline himself in the manner of the Gyoto monks. Upon returning to America, drawn by a strange compulsion to live at the beautiful stupa outside Bloomington, Indiana, he received a troubling and difficult government questionnaire in the mail. He studied it intently over the course of weeks, answered many of its queries, but always returned to one question. He reminded himself that providing false information on the United States Census was punishable by law. Long sleepless nods he meditated. Was he Caucasion? African-American? Asian-Indian? Asian-American? What is the sound of many cultures clashing? Enlightenment struck like a blow to the head. He checked the box marked Other and vanished.V.
Grandfather and I have no problems with the census. I have inherited a pale pigmentation and created the ominous fear of perjuring my history. To identify with an ancestral past is a comfort befitting religion. The bad faith of the present is the bane of the future. This rain doesn't wash anything away, it makes the ground wet; it gives an impression of sadness, a blanket of emotion that wouldn't dream of draping two more bodies over the coffin, like ancestral flags, and filling the hole. My grandfather spoke. He told a story about a civilisation that built empires and governed them from the top down. He never said what color they were or what continent they came from. I guess there are some good old days but they don't look that way to me. I'm going to tell my own story; I will have to begin with yesterday. Today I bury my grandfather. Is that a tear in my eye? or does the wind blow so fast that the rain is running down my cheek?
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