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The Idea of Ancestry

Part I
Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures; 47 black faces
my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grandfathers
(both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins, (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.
They stare across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.
I know their dark eyes, they know mine. I know thier style,
they know mine.  I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.
I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins, I am now in love with a 7 year-old niece
(she sends me letters written in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).
I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle.  The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say).  He’s discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is a empty space.  My father’s mother, who is 93
and keeps the Family Bible with everybody’s birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him.  There is no
place in her Bible for “whereabouts unknown.”
Part II
Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown
hills and red gullies of Mississippi send out their electric
messsages, galvanizing my genes.  Last year – like salmon quitting
the cold ocean – leaping and bucking up his birthstream –
I hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a
monkey on my back, and almost kicked it with the kinfolks.
I walked barefooted in my grandmother’s backyard –
I smelled the old land and the woods – I sipped cornwhiskey from
fruit jars with the old men – I flirted with the women,
I had a ball till the caps ran out and my habit came down.
That night I looked at my grandmother and split –
my guts were screaming for junk -but I almost contended –
I had almost caught up with me.
The next day in Memphis I robbed a dealer’s crib for a fix.
This year there  is a gray stone wall damming up my stream,
and when the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell
or flop on my bunk and stare at the 47 black faces across the space.
I am all of them, they are all of me, they are thee,
and I have no sons to float in the spaces between.

Etheridge Knight (1931-1985)

I am all of them, they are all of me, they are thee and I am me. 
About tenthltr2u (1063 Articles)
A child of the 60's I often feel out of place in the world as it exist today. Too much excess, too much materialism, too few people who genuinely care or give a damn. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

4 Comments on The Idea of Ancestry

  1. This is so tragic, it pains me to read it. We, as moral human beings, must adequately address, and attempt to solve, the issue of wasted lives.


  2. Tenthltr2u // March 24, 2006 at 9:34 am // Reply

    Thanks for visiting my neighborhood and for your comments.  When I first came across that piece I hesitated to post it but after re-reading felt compelled to.  It reminded me of what I had seen as a consultant to our own State Dept of Corrections and the youngmen I encountered while at one of our  institutions.
    We are indeed all of them and they are indeed all of us.  We are the 47 pictures staring back at them across the space as they sprawl on their bunks.  Thousands of lives lost because we have chosen to ignore rather than educate, warehouse rather than rehabilitate.
    We have lost the war on drugs, the war on poverty and don’t get me started on the so-called war in Iraq.  It pains me to think that in the war on reclaiming the lives of so many of our young men we have "cut and run". We have found it far too easy to lock the door and throw away the key.  To turn our prison systems into "profit" centers and these youngmen into commodities.


  3. Wow…that was powerful!!  Your last statement is so very true.  I love a quote that I read when I was doing research for my blog entry on Dreads.  One of the Rastas wrote "Out of many, one people".  Peace and blessings!!  😉


  4. Thanks to my father who stated to me on the topic of this weblog, this weblog is genuinely


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