They slumped dead in their soup, those Canadian Frenchmen,
Their hearts stopped like cheap clocks
by the winter
or the wet
or the notions some men get...
Down from them came my grandfather, the one I never knew--
The thing to do, it seemed to him,
was to take a Native wife--
The one who bore him twins, then
went dodgy, foggy,
like summer grain gone bad.
The institution did what they could for her, the rest of her life--
The alcohol did what it could to him, with no wife and two boys
dark of hair
dark of eye
until the day he died.
And so now, here I am, a seed blown down from northern winds,
An island of French Canada and New York state,
as my grandfather was,
with the midnight moon.
There are no islands where you are from, and so mine has come to you.
What I really long to do is to stripe
color across your cheeks,
your shoulders, your thighs--
to paint a hand print on your pony
and a circle around her eye.
Pretend I am prairie, though I am snow and river ice.
Lay yourself soft across me and I will gather you like a willow,
murmuring something you can't quite catch
God is a madwoman after all, but as sweet as nickel candy--
as dark as owl's eyes,
and as beautiful as your hair.
For the Sunday Mini-Challenge at the Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, this time hosted by Brendan, who requests that we write about islands. The word "island" is supposed to be in the title, and it was in my working title, but I changed it when I was finished. I hope this does not disqualify me.
Process notes: Much of the story in this poem is from my actual family history. However, the French-Canadian men with the inherited cardiac condition were on my mother's side. My father's mother divorced his father when he was five years old, in 1917, quite the scandal in those days. He really did marry a Native woman who bore him twin sons, but something happened to her after that and she was never right again. She lived out her days in an asylum. My grandfather became a heavy drinker, a gene that I inherited, though I have been able to be sober now for thirty years. My father told me that, when he went back to upstate New York for his father's funeral, everyone knew right away who he was, because the family resemblance was so strong. He also said that all the men asked after his mother--my grandmother--who was, it seems, the local beauty. She died when I was two, so unfortunately, I don't remember her.
Voici! Mon livre.