1923: the great-aunt who burned to death
in a Mardi Gras parade, phoenix child,
papier-mâché dress eaten by flames in minutes
before the crowd could realize what was happening,
what the cries meant, how long the smell
of burnt skin would rest on their tongues.
Others, less dramatic:
a cousin twice-removed who stashed money
in the freezer and the washing machine
and who knows where else, the one who’d pull
you aside at Thanksgiving and Christmas
to shove handfuls of bills or jewelry
into your pockets.
Don’t tell your mother.
A great-grandfather who frequented
dirty picture shows at the theater
in the middle of town in the middle of the day,
hunkered down in the dark
until the reels stopped spinning
and he and all the other men emerged,
blinking like newborn kittens.
Forced back to the sweet breath of their wives,
their children with rheumy eyes
I come from a line of women who run,
who cut town as soon as they can,
disappear on a Tuesday and resurface
30 years later in stale-aired diners,
or churches, or Florida. Eager to meet
all the new people, to clutch the babies
of their babies. Ready to feel the shapes
of those names on their lips like they were
there all along, waiting to be uttered.