{npm18: 4.6 – pf & p7}

It’s the first Friday of the month, and the Poetry Sisters are ba-ack. (And that is never not going to sound faintly ominous.) This month, we’re in sunny downtown Antarctica … or, at least I am; others may gone on to places where their brains were able to be more or less thawed. Nevertheless, this month, the Poetry Seven took on writing a variation on a Golden Shovel poem, that is, incorporating a single line from another person’s poem into one of our own. Myriad other poets may have done this assignment properly, by using the borrowed line’s words to end each of the words of your poem, but… mine simply wouldn’t work out like that.

It might have had to do with the line I chose from Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, which was the poem Tricia selected for us this month. We’re all familiar with it and its theme of loss — and there are many lines which would have lent themselves to shaping my poem around loss. I… didn’t want to, for whatever reason. So the line I chose was places, and names, and where it was you meant, which is the most vague thing ever – but I felt like challenging myself.

Others poets have heeded the call to a challenge this month including Sara, with a rather ominous title, Tricia, who couldn’t decide on a line; Laura, who’s been “branching” out this week; Liz, who has traveled AND partied this week, Kelly, who could barely drag herself out of her new art studio long enough to put pen to paper, and Andi, who found a sled somewhere, and a Yeti to pull her back up to the top. She can’t be bothered to come in out of the snow just yet, but she’ll be back.


          1. a thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another.
          “some antecedents to the African novel might exist in Africa’s oral traditions”
precursor, forerunner, predecessor

ancestry sites hold just the highlights of
places and names, and where it was. You meant
to present it, your past’s territory –
but found just blank pages and nothing. No story.

Is DNA testing so worth our investing?
Gateway to the past! Splash with spit to come through!
those twenty-three pairs are
commodities, wares
and data determines percentage, not clues

what have we to show,
we seekers, who know we are remnants of
slavery’s chattel-bred schemes?
What else do we carry? Our truth’s ordinary –
are we really our ancestor’s wildest of dreams?

each beat of a heart is state-of-the-art
a voyage more vital than Mayflower’s sailing
no more handicap or blanks left on a map
your story begins where you choose its unveiling.

I’m not yet sure if I, er, should have challenged myself quite this thoroughly… but that’s the point of our little monthly excursions. It ironically follows the same theme I was discussing yesterday – despite me beginning this poem before I heard the latest story about an inquiry through Ancestry.com. Oh, the shocks and surprises in the careless delving into one’s familial structures. Digging into the past can undermine some foundations, so be careful what you look for, dear ones. We do not dwell within the lines of the past; we live in the now. Though your line – like mine – may have begun in darkness, it can still end in perfect light. The story begins where you choose to begin it.

Poetry Friday today is graciously hosted by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at the Poem Farm.

13 Replies to “{npm18: 4.6 – pf & p7}”

  1. “each beat of the heart is state of the art”!!!!!
    Tanita — you are a force of nature and this poem is stunning.
    Really, I’m overwhelmed by not just the subject matter, but the structure and the language here, which feel brave and innovative and moving….

  2. Hi Tanita! I did it. I know I left a comment elsewhere, but I just wanted to thank you again for this. I am trying to decide if I want to do one of these DNA tests…one part pulls me in and another says no. Love your last line. xx

    1. @amyklv: (Thanks for sticking around to navigate my somewhat complicated comment structure!) My sister informed me JUST YESTERDAY that she’s going to do the DNA testing… so, my family story will become more or less nuanced…but I still reserve the right to take from it what I want, and leave the rest. Here’s to choosing who we are!

  3. I like the idea of a poem comment, at least how I received yours, Tanita. There is much talk of ancestry in the ads, and I know some, know my mid-west family held great store in heritage, but now in these recent “family lines” there are adopted children and their children and it feels uncomfortable to dwell on “great grandfather’s nose”! Ha! I enjoyed your inner rhymes, packing a punch, and the final line, the real one to me. Thanks!

    1. @LindaBaie: My theme with this month’s tankas are to respond to the feeling of the moment – and when I saw a shirt with the statement, “I Am My Ancestor’s Wildest Dreams” on it, all I could think was, “Really? Are we really?”

      Here’s to unveiling our own story.

  4. Wow, T. You hid your borrowed line so seamlessly that I had to go back and re-read the poem to find it again. I love the choices you’ve made to align yourself with each state-of-the-art heartbeat. Because, truly…what else CAN we do? Knowing the past sometimes gives us power…sometimes, pause or pain…but how we choose to use that knowledge is always played out in the present. This is masterfully laid out, all of it, but for the moment, I’m caught up in your question: “are we really our ancestor’s wildest dreams?” I don’t know how to answer that—who could?—but yet, I like that you’ve asked it.

    1. @Sara: Ava Duvernay, the producer (of, most recently “A Wrinkle In Time”) has a T-shirt which reads, “I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams.” A lot of people of color are wearing those, imagining the joy of enslaved antecedents marveling at all that they can do.

      While I love the pride in that, and the throwing down of that gauntlet, I’m not so sure that what I do, what I am doing is anything much that …wild. Who knows what our ancestors dreamed? Who knows if we are the fulfillment of all they imagined? I doubt that they imagined this small.

      For me, that shirt would be a reminder to do more, dream more, be more.

  5. I love the journey of this poem, Tanita! “each beat of a heart is state-of-the-art” and “twenty-three pairs are
    commodities, wares” are favorite lines for me. Genealogy is interesting. With my new book, I’ve thought and written a lot about family, and a number of people have asked, “Why don’t you find out if you have cousins or other living relatives?” And our younger daughter has done DNA testing and thinks we should, too. But I believe so little in the past. I mean, not that I think it didn’t happen. I just don’t really care where my ancestors lived or what ethnic group they were or whatever. My life is so full of family (both related by blood and not) I know and love and still don’t have time to keep in proper touch with! I guess your final line is really what sums it all up for me. Thanks for this thoughtful poem that made me analyze things a little more:>)

    1. @Laura: EXACTLY — we have such riches with who we have already — why are so many people trying to reach back to claim some prize from forever ago? (I know that’s not why everyone does it, but so many people seem to be trying to find out if they’re related to someone famous… um, who cares? They’re still dead.) I love how you put that – I, too, believe so little in the past. The present is the only gift we have.

  6. Oh how I adore this poem. I love how it zips and zings and sings along.

    And yes – ancestry sites. So much and so little to learn. Skim the surface. Find the ancestors who received medals after they slaughtered Native Americans and feel the weight of that guilt settle into your bones. (True story)

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