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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 RuefleMary 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.

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