Who are these People?
There’s no bringing these
great grandparents back,
not Neil, not Margaret,
immigrants from Scotland,
married at the turn of the 20th century,
dead before my parents ever met.
Their existence is the sole responsibility
of this wedding photo,
buried among obscure aunts and uncles,
second cousins and primary school class photos.
Their features are barely clear enough to be human.
But his height is there
and a little of his hard muscle.
Likewise, her steadfastness,
or maybe that’s just something I invest in her,
as if she’s strong-willed enough
to be still posing for the camera,
without a twitch, a blink, even into my time.
I’m old enough
that my curiosity has finally abandoned
all that I can see and touch.
Now it’s transfixed by what it can never know,
I can only imagine how hard this man worked,
how stoically she kept the tiny house,
how unfailingly she wore white gloves to church on Sunday.
I envisage good years on the land and bad,
many children, some who lived long lives,
others who died young.
Try as it might, my mind can’t recreate real passion.
Because this is family.
But, I’m sure, a hand wrapped around a waist from time to time
or a sun-hardened face pressed itself to cheeks of tarnished leather
and whispered, “Don’t let anyone tell you
these haven’t been good years.”
I have little in common with these people.
I’ve no idea what it’s like to live off the land.
The wheat, the flies, the flatness,
the deathless watch kept on a solitary cloud–
nothing to do with my suburbs.
And sure, I’ve known heartache
but it was never once the weather’s doing.
But these are immigrant lives,
the deep that murmurs in my shallows,
that waters me, which I draw upon night and day,
So congratulations on your wedding, Neil and Margaret.
May you enjoy many years of bliss.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and failbetter.