Swerve

By Kelle Groom Kelle Groom
I think of the man who sat
behind my grandmother’s sister
in church and told her
the percentage of Indian
in her blood, calling it out
over the white pews.
I wonder what made
him want to count it
like coins or a grade.
I wish I could hear him
now when I think of her
saying that all
the Wampanoag blood
in her body would
fit in one finger,
discounting the percentage
it seemed, but why was she
such a historian, tracing
the genealogy of the last
Wampanoag up to her own
children, typing it all on see-through
paper? Maybe like me
she felt a little self-conscious
caring about what
we’re made of
instead of simply being
satisfied dressing
our bodies and driving
them around.
Maybe she felt shy
for loving someone
she’d never met, I mean
I do. I think of the knife
cutting into flesh
and the fork carrying it
to your mouth.
I always think
of that, the scythe-
like movement,
single motion, a swerve.
I think of my relative, the last
Wampanoag in the town,
walking the streets
with a dollar
the town gave him.
Even then what would
a dollar buy, a finger
of land? If an Indian
could have bought land.
I think of walking
into the almshouse. The alms
falling like figs from trees,
something to gnaw on.
I think of the first time
of thanks
before it had a name,
when it was just some
relatives of mine keeping
some relatives of yours
alive through a cold winter,
people stupid enough
to take food from a graveyard,
food meant for the dead.

Source: Poetry (September 2009).

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This poem originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2009
 Kelle  Groom

Biography

Kelle Groom was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Florida, Hawaii, Spain, and Texas. Her collections of poetry include Underwater City (2004); Luckily (2006), which won a Florida Book Award; and Five Kingdoms (2010), also a Florida Book Award winner. Her poems and writing have appeared in the New Yorker, The Best American Poetry, The Best American Non-Required Reading, Ploughshares, and elsewhere.

Groom's memoir of adoption, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Money & Economics, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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