My parents kissing in a kitchen.
In her loop-eyed dress my mother—
enormous in her belly, I loom.
In a commune in Fort Greene
she typed and typed her dissertation.
Upstairs a woman practiced primal screams,
a wild-haired painter mourned his dying wife.
My parents had already made my life
near the mass grave
of hundreds of Revolutionary soldiers,
a cockeyed brownstone full of junkies,
somebody who stripped my parents’ jalopy
down to wires and bones.
Soon they sold all they had
and drove to Madison to have me.
Had five people over for pie.
It was done then: They were married.
Weeks later in their bedroom I was born.
In piles my mother’s writing
watched us from unquiet bricks and boards.
Eighteenth Century Remains
The ridge a half mile down from Monticello.
A pit cut deeper than the plow line.
Archaeologists plot the dig by scanning
plantation land mapped field
for carbon, ash, traces of human dwelling.
We stand amid blown cypresses.
Inheritors of absences, we peer
into the five-by-five foot ledge.
Unearthed painstakingly, these shards:
two pipe stems, seeds, three greening buttons.
Centuries-old hearthstones are still charred,
as if the fire is only lately gone.
"Did they collect these buttons to adorn?" But no one knows.
"Did they trade, use them for barter?"
Light, each delicate pipe stem,
something someone smoked at last
against a sill-log wall that passed as home,
a place where someone else collected
wedges of cast-off British willowware.
Between vines, a tenuous cocoon.
A grassy berm that was a road.
A swaying clue
faint as relief at finding something left
of lives held here that now vanish off
like blue smoke plumes I suddenly imagine—
which are not, will not, cannot be enough.