My Family's History


I'm three. Sitting under the Christmas tree,
playing with toys, I ask innocently,
"Where Grandpa?" My puzzled family

does not respond. What could the child mean?...
The one in York --whom he's hardly ever seen--
or *him*, our secret shame, the one who's been

banished all these years from our hearts--
no suicide-note, no police reports,
no bullet-ridden body parts,

no cryptic letters to friends, post-marked Iraq,
no sign of his ever coming back--
only the clear, incontrovertible fact

of his not being here.... This child, could he
have somehow sensed a lack of symmetry,
his dear Grandma without a counterpart?

Sparing my elders the difficulty
of having to actually reply,
I say, "When do we eat? I hungry."



I'm in college. My Uncle Tim, a good
and gentle man, an engineer, who would
always do his best at his job but could

also find time for his nephews, was chief
of his town's electric utility.
A rain fell on the town without mercy,

flooding the streets. The generators failed.
There was no electricity for days.
Business stopped. Food spoiled. Townspeople railed

against him for not doing his job.
It was an equation he couldn't solve.
From a tree outside the plant, he hung himself.



I'm married. My fraternal twin
has killed himself, using a gun.
(For details, please click here.)

[I think you'll agree that my family
has been plagued by despondency
and suicide. And there've been times when I,

myself, despite wife and children,
have almost given in to that feeling
of hopeless, unloved superfluity....]


Years later, in the winter, children breathe
on a window and draw in what they've breathed.
A boy, sitting quietly underneath

the Christmas tree, asks, "Where's Grandpa?" and I
around the corner answer lovingly
and low, "I'm here child. I am here...." He's three.



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