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Family History

My mother digs up graves—
Revolutionary War era

whalers who doubled as spies
and outfoxed the British.

A consumptive farmer who wrote:
This year last we threshed hay.

Always she demands stories
her mother doesn’t care to tell.

Words surface like fish on a lake.
Dead fish.

Our tight-lipped family dictum:
speak with your mouth shut.

We keep things to ourselves—
cancer. A sin. A shame within.

So years later my mother learns
how her grandfather really went:

not wanting to make a scene

he took matters into hand
and slit his own throat with a knife.



Late Marriage

Criminals often work in pairs—
tricking the elderly, scamming naïve
widows whose husbands died last week.

Russian aparatchiks, completely amoral,
who believe that fools, goddamn them,
must pay, call and leave repeated messages

about unclaimed property, delinquent accounts
in Guam, the Phillipines, or Virgin Islands—
distant places she never once considered

vacation possibilities. She trusted her beloved;
he didn’t have the requisite shiftiness
for perfumed mistresses, secret trysts,

the perceptiveness, or maybe he’d ceased
caring and that’s why, thirty-odd years ago,
he never questioned her weekends with Susan,

one they both counted as a dear old friend
who covered her story while she spent nights
in the arms of men, then guilt, then worry,

the split that didn’t split returned her to him,
faithful to the dutiful manner in which he served
Sunday breakfast in bed, squeezing the juice

from the ripe oranges, for her, himself.




Keith Ekiss is a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford University. He is the author of Pima Road Notebook and translator of two volumes by the Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio, The Fire’s Journey (Tavern Books) and Territory of Dawn: The Selected Poems of Eunice Odio (The Bitter Oleander Press).