Family Names

Ours was not the kind of family 
whose fortunes & failures become

legendary, whose sons' or patriarchs' 
indulgences were bought by placing bets 

with cattle or houses as guarantee; whose 
daughters & wives were beautiful but only 

in the way a rumor of smoke remains in some 
towns, long after they've burned to cinders— 

In the ruins, there was no general
still dazed from the war, dictating

orders in his crumpled uniform the color
of putty, from inside the fortress of 

a claw-footed tub. We were the kind 
who quietly changed the chamberpots

in the morning, or collected rain-
water in empty oil pails. We were 

the kind sent with a letter and 
instructions to wait for a reply;

the ones trusted to keep our eyes &
mouths shut as bushes in the garden

trembled with a volley of violent 
thrusts. We aired the linens &

straightened the books, taking care
there were at least two other witnesses

in the room. The measure of our ambition
was to be no larger than the present,

no clearer than the past. The future
was time, & time was for the gods;

& therefore unseemly for our further
concern. We saw the ways in which names

could be let loose: they snaked their way 
across oceans, tasked to find the one 

root from which they first sprang,
or broke. It is believed the wind 

once knew our names at the coast's edge.
Then boats came, baptizing us in their wake.



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