Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Family Tree

Family Tree

They come from far and wide, once a year,
same time, same place to mingle and snack
on catered shrimp and make small talk

in the long line that snakes around the
room to the open bar besieged,
five deep, the convivial beating

heart of the party until the string band
starts up and everyone heads for the
dance floor, long limbs loose, knees high,

hair down, heads thrown back with abandon,
jostling and spilling drinks.  Of course there’s
bound to be trouble, unavoidable

at these kind of things, generations of
farmers and drifters and rail men,
conscripts and schemers and failures

three times over, a profane
cacophony of native brogue and
broken English and long, lazy vowels

stretched to breaking.  The men have my
nose, my forehead, the women your eyes,
your fortitude, but neither you or I

claim the loud cackle coming from a
skinny gal with electric hair or
the flat, vacant gaze of the fellow

in coveralls, hands like hay rakes,
yellow fingers clenched into fists.  The bar
closes at twelve and they start to drift  

away, arms draped, propping each other
up, telling the same old tearful tales,
the falls down wells, battle axes

to the head, starvation in alarming
numbers and the many iterations of
pox and croup, ague and catarrh,

bilious fever, dropsy and the flux,
melancholia, milk leg and screws,
a miserable game of one-upmanship

enjoyed by all as they disappear
into the night, our fore-bearers, eyeing
us at the door, polite yet taciturn,

playing things close to the vest, mum
on the matter of the highest
branches of their family trees. 

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