Monday, April 3, 2006

April 3, 2006: Inheritance


We came into it all
without breaking of glass, or lifting
of veil, or a grandmother’s cameo
ring. No family heirlooms

in our first rented house; instead
we depended on thrift store endtables,
a lamp, a couch. We wished

for chipped dishes that told
a great-aunt’s rich history
of struggle and survival.
We were lonely

without a background, without cabbage
or latkes or black-eyed peas.
We ease into it

year by year. I learn to quilt,
meticulously stitching
my initials in a corner; he builds a cradle,
a stool, a wooden horse. We resurrect

dead relatives through our children,
naming them John and Alice and Henry,
and record each birth in a fat
white Bible. They are the first

to grace its tissue-thin pages,
though my handwriting lacks
the necessary elegance, the gentle curves
of a practiced pen.
The house we choose
is old: we strip, paint, varnish,
smooth, and fill its rooms

with other people’s antiques. Tiny white
christening gowns and newspaper
clippings sleep in the cedar
chest at the foot of our bed. We bring

in the new year with cranberry punch
and oyster stew. In my tin-plated kitchen
I bake bread, kneading dough
with floured fingers, releasing
yeast quietly as air
between every crevice
of the house, filling the children
with its heavy scent.

(By Sarah Cummins Small. Received award in Knoxville Writer's Guild Robert Burns Poetry Prize, 2002.)

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