My grandpa only ever knew me as a little boy. I only knew him as an old man. But every day I work on his land, I stand under his trees, hold his soil in my hand and watch it drift away in the breeze, he knows. He sees.
I’m no longer a little boy.
The old man is buried beside a church in town.
But when we pick up antiques and put them to work, when we give our backs to what we’ll never get back, we can no longer call it memory.
Eternal life might be secondary to eternal use.
That’s why I prefer stories to memories.
Anytime I get to choose.
My mom says I love you with her hands.
She spells it out for us. With her smile. With her eyes.
My mom doesn’t say anything unless she believes it is true.
Mom walks out of her room in pajamas at nine thirty on Sunday morning
we all know what it means.
Like a brim that wiggled off the hook but kept the bait.
We sleep in the results of the decisions she makes.
Answered prayers. Skipping church.
My mom has climbed into every trench with me chucked a grenade overhead
and charged the enemy inside me. There is no moment in existence more poignant
than when your parent looks at you honestly afraid and asks ‘what’s next?’
Life. Robin. The early bird who could not wait to get to us. Robin.
Egg cracked many months too early. You knew to hurry and get to her.
You carried her to us like a robin fills the little yellow triangles chirping in her nest.
My mom is her mom.
My mom had to also be my grandma.
Before she was ready. She was handed a burden
I will never in my lifetime be strong enough to bear.
Because my mom is here.
She fights for it.
She outpours it.
She says I love you with her hands. Some fingers bend and others straighten.
She spells it out. My mom shouts I love you across the room.
And no one hears it.
But her children.
When heat tumbles through skin and knit cloth,
like stifling, sun-warmed mists rising up to the occasion of a morning,
I feel so like the earth.
When jungles of oil-darkened hair frame a face,
crowd sky blue, dusty vision, tickled behind ridge dotted ears,
spreading rashes down a sun-red neck, when feet hurt,
when towering spine stiffens,
heat gets up to blood bathing the brain
and causes a nerveless organ to undergo the experience of feeling pain,
I am truly the naked mammal child of my planet.
And in these many moments,
the languages of elemental parents and grandparents,
great aunt the sun and granddaddy moon,
wind and water table cousins,
close kin and friends who pass over like rain,
stirring and kicking in the swollen bellies of clouds,
are familiar to me.
I hear their words clear, but understand only faintly.
I believe the world is telling me that I have lived here
like a stranger long enough. Now, we,
the earth and me, will be like family.
Family has become something very different.
Not just from previous years or decades or generationally segregated nostalgia,
but in the way family influences our genes, the daily development of our minds,
the very temperament of our lives. All creatures, us included, are products
of the physical and social relationships of our species, and more specifically,
our immediate families. Products, and yet with every glitch and malfunction
the manufacturer is seldom contacted.
With therapists, friends, coworkers, neighbors sometimes,
we talk openly over bar stools, leaned on counters in office lounges,
even hosting weekly barbecues with entire streets and blocks of familiar strangers,
whose faces are known well, but whose hearts must remain dark.
Even with our closest oldest friends there is a line drawn, in life,
through memory, where we can no longer walk together,
and one must be led by the other.
Family, however, hosts no line, no fence, no division,
like in a forest, the sapling roots have been tangled
with mother and father’s foundation,
competing on equal terms with brother and sister,
in good seasons and dry. In family,
we all lead and follow sometimes,
even the old behind the children.
Once a remedy,
aid in the face of a struggle-based environment,
has moved away.
The landscape is differed. Changed.
Organizations of humans far off from kin offered to take the gap,
a cat hole formed at the base of the family tree, and fill it in.
When hardship was equal, beneath tiered economic heights,
rooms higher up stack heavy on molded basements,
before the promise of insured amnesty,
healthcare aimed like automatic weapons only at symptoms,
before upper, middle and sad desperate foundational,
before widespread acceptance of ambivalent modern calamity,
sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers,
grand and great and twice removed too,
friends scattered intermittently,
before government or society,
people turned to community.
In ever-changing environments that provided no immunity,
creatures of all kinds fell too hard into family.
He is on the floor in the bedroom, crying after
realizing his father lost his father years ago.
Bringing in new years like groceries from the car.
Leaving them out on the counter too long.
Not real until the plastic they came in are gone.
Two thousand and seventeen in brown paper bags
on the stove.
He is spilling four shots of moonshine at one time
and letting strangers in cigar shops
offend him in the name of Christ.
Hearing story’s full weight and his knees
are unbuckling. He is standing up
to grandfather fears and millennial tears
and new God damned years.