• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 01

Faded Pencil Marks

I never knew you, the names on my mother’s family tree:
Michigan farmers with their wide, neat fields,
and the farmers who did not farm,
the grandfather who drank
and bet on horses and never
won enough to cover his debts.

or the great grandmother who chased
my great grandfather around the kitchen
with an iron frying pan
and threatened to cut off his penis
in his sleep if he ever hit her or the children again.

or another great-grandmother,
a beautiful woman who sang to herself
as she passed work-weary farmers.

They raised their heads to her and tipped their hats
imagining prim skirts crumpling
like watery silk beneath their wandering hands,
and her hair, straw bright, spayed on their pillows.

At 17, my grandfather found her, his mother,
hanging from a rafter in the basement.

After reporting to his father
he never spoke of it again.

Some in the family say she killed herself,
others claimed her husband killed her. Everyone agreed


Faded Pencil Marks

he did it. A bad farmer who did not till his land
was capable of bending his cruelty in a rope
around her neck, no matter who tied the final knots.

I look up from faded pencil marks,
blurring names on my mother’s family tree
long suffering grandmothers, fireflies, fierce and bright,
and grandfathers, grim survivors who buried
young wives in darkness
and let their fields cover the graves,
souls rising, pinpoints of light flickering
among the weeds and the silence,
bare limbed and forgetful as a waning moon.