Weekly Poem: ‘Ancestors’
By Mary Ruefle
The best thing that ever happened to me
was that my grandparents all died
before I was born.
I’ve never had a sense of who I am,
and in that regard I’ve been lucky.
It’s only natural
I know a little about them.
One grandfather worked a steel lathe,
cut off his finger and opened a bar.
The other one went to school, became
a pharmacist and owned a marvelously
tidy drugstore. It had a soda fountain
and in the only photograph I have
he’s standing behind the Moxie tap
wearing a white paper hat.
One of my grandmothers, who outlived them all,
died of either a broken heart or diabetes.
The other grandmother was sadly senile
and died peacefully in her sleep.
I have a mania for soap and cologne,
hairpins and talc, but so do many of my friends
who never had a pharmacy in their past.
With the extent of my knowledge I’ve done okay.
I won a cakewalk once, and another time—
at a seaside carnival—a painted plate
in the shape of Rhode Island.
I don’t need a quietus to sleep.
I don’t need an alarm to wake.
All dreams have tragic implications.
I have the same one every year:
in Sarajevo, a queue of men
line up to have their fezzes ironed.
Mary Ruefle is the author of, most recently, ‘Selected Poems’ (Wave Books, 2010). She has published 10 books of poetry, a book of prose and a comic book. Ruefle is the recipient of numerous honors, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Whiting Award. She lives in Bennington, Vermont, and teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College.