At first among certain shadows
you felt forbidden to ask whose they were.
So little to inherit: family tree, tarnished pride.
A patrician lilt to certain vowels.
Real money lost, tale crocheted
in Brockenborough doilies.
Still sad alcoholic ghosts came stalking.
Unsolved, always thinking white or colored,
they slunk by, rank as shame.
Haunted by remains
somehow you were and were not
the Confederate soldiers in your grandmother's nook.
in ripped jeans from California and tasted
their seed, their curd, their underworld of 80 proof
or no proof, a difficult nut, cracked but rotten.
Known unknowns, unknown knowns
lost/not lost like the tobacco barns
on the road south, mud-daubed life
that crawled under your skin
to inhabit ensnare become partway your own.
Ghost snippets, Daddy listening
as Scotch glasses clinked, Granddaddy
killing possums with Lewis the colored man—
You felt: This/Not this. Self/Other.
You still wanted for them to explain
their America, their prodigal
half-remembered, always present pain.
Impossible to ask. Don't speak of race.
The record's scratched. I don't remember. I never knew.
Anyone who'd tell you's dead. And: No one would tell you.
Excerpted from The Forage House by Tess Taylor. Copyright © 2013 by Tess Taylor. With permission of the publisher, Red Hen Press.