Letter From My Ancestors

 

Photo courtesy of Virgil DiBiase


We wouldn’t write this,
wouldn’t even think of it. We are working
people without time on our hands. In the Old Country,

we milk cows or deliver the mail or leave,
scattering to South Africa, Connecticut, Missouri,
and finally, California for the Gold Rush—

Aaron and Lena run the Yosemite campground, general
store, a section of the stagecoach line. Morris comes
later, after the earthquake, finds two irons

and a board in the rubble of San Francisco.
Plenty of prostitutes need their dresses pressed, enough
to earn him the cash to open a haberdashery and marry 

Sadie—we all have stories, yes, but we’re not thinking
stories. We have work to do, and a dozen children. They’ll
go on to pound nails and write up deals, not musings. 

We document transactions. Our diaries record
temperatures, landmarks, symptoms. We
do not write our dreams. We place another order, 

make the next delivery, save the next
dollar, give another generation—you,
maybe—the luxury of time

to write about us.

“Letter from My Ancestors”
First published in Margie, Volume Four, 2005
Reprinted with permission on The Best American Poetry 2006
Reprinted with permission in Fans of My Unconscious, Black Rock Press, 2013


Nursery House

 

Photo courtesy of Virgil DiBiase

      “She lives in a nursery house.”
                   -Devi, age nine, speaking of her great-grandmother

I imagine my great-grandmothers, none of whom lived
to meet me: the four of them, together in a glass-walled structure,
flooded with sunlight. Ferns, hibiscus vines, lounge chairs
beside a fountain. Glasses of iced tea on little tables.
Aloisia never smiles. Despite flare-ups of her shingles,
she’s never seen a doctor and won’t now. In somber dress,
she walks to Mass at dawn each morning, returns to chop wood
that piles up unneeded. Maria—if that is her name—stays out of sight
but somehow manages to keep the orchids misted. Sadie wears polka dots,
even to dig in the garden afternoons. She harvests root vegetables—
her favorite is horseradish, fresh and raw. She vacuums the marble
floor and dries the dishes, always bumping into things, breaking
a plate or cup. From a coffee can, she offers homemade
chocolate chip cookies, rock hard. She sits down only to write
in a leather-bound journal—about the weather, Aloisia’s snoring,
cards games—mostly solitaire, these days. Essie is the only one
who reclines, a small white dog on her lap. A wide-brimmed feather hat
shades her eyes. She brought along a swimming costume and tennis dress,
though the fountain pool is too small and no one else plays. She has nothing
to say to Sadie and the others speak only German. Essie wonders
how she ended up with these people as she leafs through issue
after issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, searching
Herb Caen’s column for her name.

“Nursery House” – previously unpublished


Fire

 

Photo courtesy of Virgil DiBiase


I watch the campfire, the only light
besides the moon, alluring
luminous flicker and I want it
simply to be fire, to watch
the dance, the glowing
embers, the smolder, the billowing
smoke, without regret
that there’s nothing
new I can say about fire. I want

not to feel the need
to say something,
but for it simply to be
fire without my pausing to recall
it’s an element, as in
earth, water, air, and

I want not to think
of my distant ancestors,
subject of myths, who stole
and later learned to make fire,
and control it, and how without fire,
they never would have developed
civilization to a point where
I consider it a vacation to cook
over open flames and sleep on the ground.

How is it that fire goes from nothing
into something, it’s not there,
and then it is, ethereal
never in one place long enough
to make you look away.

“Fire” was first published in Quercus Review, 2006
Reprinted with permission in Fans of My Unconscious, Black Rock Press, 2013


Krista Lukas writes prose and poetry. Her essays, short stories, and interviews have been published in The Sun, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, and Los Angeles Review of Books. She is the author of a poetry collection, Fans of My Unconscious, poems from which have been selected for The Best American Poetry 2006 and The Writer’s Almanac.


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