Not the riverbank. Not the sedges
                   or the black hum

of blow flies that feed off a corpse.
                    Not the river. Not

its indifferent current. Not the bridge
                   or how it bemoans 

the loss of someone who’s left town
                 —the year, the date, 

unimportant. Not the address scribbled 
                  onto scrap paper.

Not the hospital or the room at home,
                 pulsing and humid.

Not the midwife who prays between 
                parted legs. Not

the just born baby. Not his open mouth 
               forming its first 

word because the word is stillborn. Not
                the afterbirth,

its collapse, a memory of its last breath. 
                 No. None of this.

I pretend I’m well-mannered and polite.
                 Wet with my grief.

Barefoot. Burdened by footprints I follow,
                those I’ve trekked

in the mud. I’ve come with no good sense
               of discretion. I seek

sins and secrets, what remains I excavate
                 from the coffin

or confessional. My tongue is pickled 
                in a jar of ink. 

The months have fed from my body 
               by the handful. 

Even so, I foam at the mouth for what
              was never mine.


Copyright © 2022 by Ángel García. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 28, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

For years I’ve been tracing my lineage, the historical record of where and who my family comes from. While the research has been a process of recovery, through anecdotes and occasional artifacts, I’ve come to the realization that I’m too late. There are wide and deep swaths of what I do not and never will know concerning the ancestors whose pasts I am trying to write through. Despite the loneliness this causes, the profound sense of loss, this poem offers a critique that hinges on my speaker’s selfishness. It asks, who am I to write through their lives?”
—Ángel García