“Ancestry… for my mother” by Karen Shepherd

2021 Pushcart Prize Nominee
2020 Best of the Net Nominee

You seek roots belonging to separate limbs.
There will be no ocean mist on the windshield,
fir needles on the doormat. Undetectable will be the bounce
of curls over hopscotch squares, of a basketball on the driveway,
of words off patent leather shoes.
No early risings, no spitting out the wind, no made up songs
while spinning on the tire swing beside the lemon tree.
Kneeling in pews, walking through grassy hills towards zebra,
puckering at the taste of kumquats, pressing flowers in a dictionary…
none of that will be found.
Nor will it show the girl-turned-lover-turned-woman
who still can’t look at her own body in the mirror,
who startles when the earth vibrates,
who has many friends but no place to sit.
There will be no trace of how I lost my laugh on a savanna,
grew calluses under my hair, found stars drowned in a tea kettle.

I know what I will tell you when the results come back:
I’m part garden-fairy, part combustion, part chalk and incense.
I’m swallowed bone, borrowed pitchfork, water-logged paper.
And then I’ll hold your hand in mine, watch your eyes crease,
tell you that I’m mostly four-leaf clover with a splash of earl gray.
And that is what we both already knew.



Karen Shepherd lives in Portland, Oregon, where she enjoys walking in forests and listening to the rain. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in various online and print journals including most recently Elephants Never, Neologism Poetry Journal, Cirque Journal, and Mojave Heart Review. Follow her at https://twitter.com/karkarneenee.

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