When I was twelve or so, I had an old
Native friend, a Wyandotte, Bill.
His white wife thought she’d married
down and rode him like a donkey.
I thought the Indians had been right.
Renegades were villains in the books
but I want to be one and fight with
Natives for their land and rights.
On our first long family trip after
World War II in our first new car
in years, I persuaded my parents
to stop at Pipestone, a spot sacred
peaceful. The pipestone was red
on a walk past two quarries, ending
at a waterfall. The place moved me.
It had a resonance like stone rows
on Dartmoor I visited decades later
again and again. Some places feel
strong and holy. I picked up a small
piece of soft stone, kept it for years
carting it with my books through
Detroit, Ann Arbor, Paris, Chicago
until I left my French husband with
just what I could carry and lost it.
I’ve collected stones in other places
that moved me, but still I miss it.
We pick and choose antecedents.
Some count father to father, as if
born from cabbages as perhaps they
were told to quell curiosity.
Some like me choose what pleases:
my mother’s side, Bubbah who
shared my bed half the year,
grandfather of stories, legends.
Welsh speaking father’s mother
the one my mother liked, soft spoken.
Children urged to shame her speech;
the Lloyds — coal miners who sang —
my cousins. For me, never father’s
father who carved tombstones
for a hobby, built railroad bridges
insisted two daughters stay home
to wait on him, suitors dismissed.
Those aunts studied genealogy
back to Norman invaders. Mother
knew only of her own family.
Jews often lost our ancestry, names
changed for safety or by law. We
vanish into the smoke of history.
Ancestry is largely a tattered myth.
Marge Piercy is the author of 20 poetry collections and 17 novels.