My Local Dead

This was the time of year we would go into the frozen forest—
leaves stripped, only a few birds ticking in the bare trees, fields shorn,

corn trash a dull gold. Sometimes snow would fall, and I can recall
the exact sound of its muffling, quieting whiteness crackling down. 

Of our hunting party, only two of us are alive—
grandparents long dead, father and nephew dead, their bones

all on the ridge top with the others. The town is shabbier now,
middle classes disappeared, leaving the ancient, the angry and the slow.

My cousin is returning home—to a place he reviled—
having run out his luck in the West. His plan 

is to move into the garage on the old homestead, which of course
is no plan at all. I sometimes hear the call to return,

come back to the shady valley with its reliable breeze, 
the crumbling brindle bluffs, a brandy old fashioned made with 7UP

waiting for me on the sticky bar of the Golden Frog, 
recognition registering with those I meet when they see

my father looking back from inside my aging face. That place
don’t fade—the one that made me—bone isotopes belie 

the soil’s iron and chalk, my talk inflected (sorry sounds like sore).
What’s more is that I want to go, but won’t.  

I’ll stay here, 2000 miles away, amidst an older Eastern decay.
It turns out I have some local dead here as well: 

Fifth Great-Grandfather Christian Servoss—colonial Dutchman
from the Palatine, who died in some wintertime foolishness 

crossing the frozen Mohawk. His two boys watched him 
and his horses drown in that not-very-impressive watercourse. 

One of those boys made it to Iowa, and disappeared,
but not before he reproduced, becoming Fourth Great-Grandfather

to yours truly, and so on. My remaining colonial dead 
lie in the dirt near Palatine Bridge, their names effaced 

from marble by acid rain. I wish I didn’t care about them, but I do.
It matters to have this ghost clan near—this family I never knew.

Copyright © 2022 by Mark Wunderlich. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.