To the age of hands and animals laying open the fields,
is as far back as I know my family. From a language
that is my heritage, from a language I cannot read
is the marriage record in our family Heilige Schrift.
When I hold it in my hands I hold generations
of ancestors. Once their fingerprints pressed whorls
of a topographic map into these pages. Contour lines of my life
shaping me in ways I don’t understand.
If I could see those lines now, would they show
me the rise and fall of family acreage, the depth
of home-stead rivers, the depth of a farmer’s strength?
Would I like these people, hold hands with them
like kindergarteners crossing a street?
Let there be gemütlichkeit, beer and sausages.
Let there be music to polka me home, because
that is where I am going. Out one barn door and into
previous generations’ tillable land and horse
collars. Field boots straight from van Gogh’s brush,
strange music of the umlaut filling steamer trunks.
Where were you all your lives and did you ever imagine me,
ever think that your Bible-page history would reach into a world
like this one with GPS-guided tractors?
Always, always at the margins—sorrow for a way of life gone,
for people I will never know, for the everyday absence in me.
But also for the land holding a history of those who came before us,
whose arrowheads worked their way from earth like bones.
All these families and none, none of us living from these loved fields