Histories

Our son is sleeping now,
arms flung out,
fluttering smiles.

Did he know, as he made up his mind,
pulling from a grab-bag of genes
his red-gold hair, steel-blue eyes,
a mobile mouth, a fringe of toes;

Did he know about the wars and rumors of wars?
microwaves, plutonium, dirty rivers, sterile earth,
careless politicians?

(the list is endless, I could go on and on.)

I will tell him our family histories;
his great-grandfather’s trek through no-man’s land,
escaping white and red fire,
crossing the ocean,
stepping onto the train with his samovar, his wife, his children,

hope in their eyes.

How secure my mother felt
in the backseat of the family Buick,
crossing the frozen river,
singing,
driving home to Blaine lake, Saskatchewan, Canada
after church!

Another legend for our son:
his father’s rush to freedom,

dashing over the beach with a coyote,
government helicopters writing light on the sand,
running for three days, without food, to Los Angeles.

How happy he was to live in a house with drawn shades,
to work,
to learn,
to try to dream.

My son uncurls his hand,
a starfish beached on my breast.

These family histories impel me;
I shall begin teaching him our languages.

Joanna Wiebe, 1979

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