Farming Family, 1912

By Adam Kirsch Adam Kirsch Read the Q & A
'Farming Family, 1912,' by August Sander
"Farming Family, 1912," by August Sander
The cruelty of the men when they’re alone,
The women’s tiredness and resignation,
Do not get multiplied, as you’d expect,
When the extended families collect,
One day a year, to get their pictures taken.
It’s not that any of their faces soften,
Nor that there’s any obvious affection
Between the farmer’s mother and his son;
And only an idealist could see
In this brief cutting from the family tree
A symbol of the strength of rootedness—
Three generations dwelling in one place—
Knowing how soon the root will lose its branch,
Cut down and hacked to pieces in a trench.
The only explanation that makes sense
For the illusion of resilience
That lights their eyes and makes them look at home
Is that with every added generation
Buried potentialities appear:
The son who poses strumming his guitar
Refutes his father’s brandished Iron Cross
No more convincingly than his bare face
Proves that his father’s beard is obsolete;
Denying one another, they complete
Their likeness to the contradictory
God who commanded us to multiply
So He could manifest, in every birth,
Another of His attributes on earth.

Source: Poetry (April 2010).


This poem originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2010

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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