Secrets and Mysteries: poem for my great grandfather

Secrets and mysteries

To my great grandfather

In all families, there are secrets and mysteries,

Connecting generations through time and space,

Blanks in the puzzle

That don’t quite fit,

Amid names and places

closely knit,

I have been studying you,

I know when you were born,

Where you lived and

Where you worked,

When you had children and

how you died,

I could sit down in your kitchen

Share a cup of coffee,

Go over the collection,

Ask you, What fits here? And what goes there?

I can almost hear your voice as you

Call to your loved ones, as you

Worry about where the next meal will come from, as you

Learn of a parent’s death, or

Grieve over a child gone too soon,

It’s all there, on paper, on

Microfilm, transcribed, and then entered online, in

Microchips and megabytes,

Records of decades and centuries gone by,

The records of our lives,

But I want to ask you, WHY did you LIE

to the census taker who came by,

when she asked you, Where were your parents born?

Was it so hard to tell the truth?

Did you think it not the government’s business, and so you

Changed the story 3 different times, giving

Different answers from one decade to the next?

One time they were both born in England, but

The next time it was different –

 your father was born in Virginia, and your mother  came from Germany,

And I think, My God, if you didn’t want anyone to know

Who your mother was or,

WHERE she was born,

Couldn’t you decide to lie consistently,

to at least make it LOOK

As if we came from somewhere?

But instead you — lie, you

change the story, you make

pieces into the puzzle that just don’t fit,

and so I have to think that,

You really did have something to hide,

(And so you lied).

There’s that time when you were

8 years old and

Left there hanging, at the bottom of the census page, like

Someone’s forgotten anecdote.

Why WAS that, Did they almost forget you and

 call to the census taker, already half way down the street

On your neighbor’s porch, saying, Wait!

We forgot – there is another boy here!

Let’s add him to the bottom of the page . . .

as an afterthought,

And the wife of your father there,

She is too young to be your mother,

(Unless she had you at age 13),

I think it more likely there was a-

nother mother,

Was she Indian?

Was her skin too brown to claim, or

Was your step-mother just too

busy holding her new baby in her arms,

to remember you?   

I know you fought for the Union army, you

Came down the Ohio river,

 from Cincinnati to New Albany

and settled yourself in southern Indiana, started your own family,

and never again, that I can find,

visited your Ohio family,

I know your first wife died young,

But I can’t find where you buried her,

And with her you had 2 daughters

Who live into adulthood.

Then you married my great grandmother,

Who was 19 years your junior and you

 live out the rest of your lives in this place where the

Great Ohio river separates Indiana, from Kentucky,

North from south,

And with her you had 6 children,

The 2nd one dying in infancy, but the

5th and 6th were a set of twins,

One of them being my grandfather.

And I wish I could sit down with you,

Share a cup of coffee at your kitchen table,

Because you see, I’ve grown to know you,

And there’s so much we could talk about,

So many pieces of the puzzle never found,

So many blanks to fill,

But you’ve been

Dead in the ground now 105 years,

and your birth was 112 years

before mine,

But you see, that’s part of the problem,

because the men in my family


You, your son (my grandfather)

And my own father, gone before their time,

None of them living to 65,

All of them leaving their families behind,

to pick through the puzzles of their lives and to

Try to make sense of all the truths

And the lies,

 and I

Come to the conclusion that,

We sometimes have to go with what we know and,

Be happy with the pieces we were able to find,

And I hope that you will help me from

the place that you are now because

I know that your spirit is still alive,

and I know that family lines, with all our

secrets and mysteries,

Family lines and blood runs dark,

and deep,

and we all are a part of

those souls who’ve gone before us,

our stories intertwine,

our secrets long to be released.                                                                               

CF Black 30 June 2011


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