Monday, April 11, 2011

Family Photo

Family Photo
Anthony A. Lee

Stern white hair, walrus
mustache—three piece suit
that might be in style now
if you don’t follow fashion—
hands in lap, on studio chair
in Sunday best. “He’s not
related to us,” my mother said.

His wife’s standing—
mother’s mother’s grandmother
and my great, great—
with her fourth man
(no one knows what
happened to 1, 2, and 3).
She, gold spectacles (no smile),
starched blouse (no lace),
sleeves long to wrists (big cuffs),
cameo at her throat,
skirt dark to the floor,
gray hair bundled, tied back,
arm on his shoulder,
black, black skin,
not a wrinkle in sight,
her Indian blood (Cherokee, Ozark)
holding her up—though she
must be seventy.

This Kansas woman
is as far back as my family
can go. She stands well
(photo faded, 1890 maybe)
unbending, no slave crouch,
looks straight, straight
on great grandsons,
and great, great, greats,
with no shame.

My mother bragged
about her prairie store,
horses and surrey,
the cash in her drawers,
had a copy of her will
with our cut right
there in black and white
($500 was a lot of money in those days),
stolen away by no good cousins
before the funeral day.
No. 4 has no name, but
“Elizabeth Taylor Milton”
she belongs to us.

They stare out, unmoved,
wait for the camera to finish.
I stare back,
search for clues
stare at the shadows.


Anthony A. Lee, Ph.D. teaches African American history at UCLA. He is the winner of the Nat Turner Poetry Prize for 2003 (Cross Keys Press). His first book of poems, This Poem Means, was the winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award for 2005 (Lotus Press). Some of his translations have been published in Táhirih: A Portrait in Poetry: Selected Poems of Qurratu’l-‘Ayn (Kalimát Press, 2004). He teaches a poetry workshop sponsored by the Creative Arts Center, City of Manhattan Beach, Califonria.

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