Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poem - Tomes by Billy Collins

I like genealogy. I don't just like knowing where I came from, who my ancestors are, or what the oldest point in time that I can link myself to is so that I can taste a bit of immortality, of always having been... although those things are fascinating and awesome. I like the stories of the past. Like when during World War II, when meat was rationed, and my grandfather was off target shooting in a field near his base, and a farmer came up to him and gifted him two steaks as a token of his gratitude for my grandfather's service, and my grandmother, who had little experience cooking meat in their short marriage, promptly cooked them to the consistency of shoe leather. Or in my husband's family, when his grandmother, a single mother to his father, would make herself mustard sandwiches for lunch so that she could taste the mustard and feel full. It is stories like these that are the history. People are not names and dates. They are relationships and experiences. I hope to collect all of these stories together so that my children and grandchildren will know a little about the people who proceeded them and prayed for them... their living heritage.

Very few of us will see our families' mentioned in history books, but they are there. Without them, there would be no history.

by Billy Collins

There is a section in my library for death
and another for Irish history,
a few shelves for the poetry of China and Japan,
and in the center a row of imperturbable reference books,
the ones you can turn to anytime,
when the night is going wrong
or when the day is full of empty promise.

I have nothing against
the thin monograph, the odd query,
a note on the identity of Chekhov's dentist,
but what I prefer on days like these
is to get up from the couch,
pull down The History of the World,
and hold in my hands a book
containing nearly everything
and weighing no more than a sack of potatoes,
eleven pounds, I discovered one day when I placed it
on the black, iron scale
my mother used to keep in her kitchen,
the device on which she would place
a certain amount of flour,
a certain amount of fish.

Open flat on my lap
under a halo of lamplight,
a book like this always has a way
of soothing the nerves,
quieting the riotous surf of information
that foams around my waist
even though it never mentions
the silent labors of the poor,
the daydreams of grocers and tailors,
or the faces of men and women alone in single rooms-

even though it never mentions my mother,
now that I think of her again,
who only last year rolled off the edge of the earth
in her electric bed,
in her smooth pink nightgown
the bones of her fingers interlocked,
her sunken eyes staring upward
beyond all knowledge,
beyond the tiny figures of history,
some in uniform, some not,
marching onto the pages of this incredibly heavy book.

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