By Kim Fowler
I am brittle
shards me into
400 years of
my fall is broken by
the unyielding resistance
of beloved family stories.
I clutch each fragment
like a baby discovering its
and am lulled by
memories that soothe,
in startled agony
in swallowing a scrap
The earth hears my need for easing,
cool water bubbles up to meet my hands.
Within its shallow running are reflected back to me
ancestors, unknown and known.
Yvonne the mother of my body and heart
Josephine my mother’s mother, a brilliant beauty, and her sister Margaret,
both dying too young
Mama Hadley, my great grandmother, born at the end of slavery
Claude the plantation owners’ son and my great grandfather
Mabel the enterprising who birthed my father
and my aunt Dorothy, who loved me like a daughter
George my father, who protected me with fearful love
Great grandfather Anthony, the wealthy and creative narcissist
Herman my Grand-Pere, the “Sarge” who warred with everyone but me
They surround me, hold me, knit me up, restore me.
They sing to me songs of Virginia and Illinois, of Missouri and Cameroon,
of Nigeria and Wales.
They crack Black jokes that Claude doesn’t get.
They sing pub tunes from the Lake District in England.
They dance jigs and the Ekombi and swing.
They tell me they are my strength
and that the land will always save us,
the land will always save me.
They lay me down in love by the spring
in which float and swirl mementos
I’m never to forget
and never to let them harm me.
In time my ancestors dissolve into themselves
so that I may awake.
I am raw
separated from my body.
I have laid myself down on the sacrificial stone
and handed the knife
to the gentle white women
They wrap my skin in a
they hand it back to me
The fire of the pain
cannot be wailed or moaned away
it can only
My ancestors cradle me
and I sigh into their arms.
I open the bag
and a sudden brilliance plays upon my face.
reach in, then
piece by beautiful piece
place my skin,
brown with tones of red
like the scored bark of a Sequoia,
like southwestern dirt,
upon my smoldering body.
They blow cool breath
to quiet the embers
and still my heart.
I slip slowly into sleep
dreaming of sweet home Chicago
the place of my birth.
I am a gardener.
Collards and cucumber
tomato and tomatillo
rosemary and kale
tiny and tender
under my gaze.
Their lives are in my hands
and mine is restored through their