ancestry: AN Account
John R. Campbell
And what is it about this impersonal place that it should offer me solace?
The world is not hospitable, or only so by accident, in pockets at odd moments.
The energy I expend moving through it, or sheltering from its elements,
is great. Sometimes I opt for exposure: on the Strait of Juan de Fuca,
a ferry plies its way towards Victoria. I'm an anomaly on its scrubbed deck,
teary and disheveled in the wind. The others, the few passengers this late in the season
are below, sensibly sipping coffee, leaving the wind to feed on the hull. Human
bodies, they know, are devoured easily, human mouths are quickly chapped.
Let the moist body supply itself. Let the human breath steam up the windows,
and soften the landscape outside. This illusion is no better, no worse than any other.
Why not let it pass? When I was born, my mother was wild with grief
over her other son, dead, unrelenting in his innocence. As I grew, I fled, driving
my toys to extremes, and hurling my body toward the end of the block. I defied
my parents' expectations by living, my hair brushed back, my face flexed, and
always at the apex of crisis. I still live at this speed, this height. This is how I excel.
And what do I feel at the relaxed endings of my harshest words, and how do I fill
the pauses, even those pauses thirty years long? Even if I could say, it would be wrong,
a broken trust. Because my ancestors have always tended suppression, and nursed,
like me, their unsaid words. Seafarers, I'm told: they launched their boats
without ceremony, in keeping with the tides. Sustenance, really, was all they were after—
the adventures came later, with grimmer times. Imagine an age, though, of adequate food,
of peat in the hearth, potatoes and fish in the stew. Sod houses absorb the rains,
and silence rises from the embers in waves. Smoke finds its way up the chimney
and meanders among treetops, along a creek, maybe out to sea.
"Ancestry: An Account" originally appeared in Basalt (Eastern Oregon University, vol 7, #1, 2012)