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Rummaging through Aunt Emma's Photographs
[Originally published in The Journal of Ethnicity in American Literature in the autumn of 1979, this untitled work (I hesitate to call it a poem, since it has no rhyme scheme or meter, and I am a traditionalist) is not in its original form. I tried and failed to locate said Journal, and enlisted considerable assistance in so failing. Apparently it was far too obscure a publication for anyone to have saved. Almost exclusively, its subscribers were university English Literature professors and librarians. It was a bimonthly journal of mostly literary reviews, and the subscribers used it to make selections for their classes or libraries. I have tried to reconstruct it from memory. This version is not as good as the original, but then, nothing ever is.]
This poem was one of only two published per year.
When it was published, the editor named it...
Rummaging through Aunt Emma's photographs...
Rummaging through Aunt Emma's photographs,
Antique rent receipts
(sister Janet had warned, "Save your receipts"),
And dead relatives' bones.
Harold and Emma and the front left fender of a '53 Ford.
Emma and Betty and an old Paint stallion, rearing
(before cousins Doug and Kay came along and made them aunts).
Janet and Emma and the giant oak tree in front of The Wolcott House
(before the oak tree was cut down and used to make crosscut saw handles, way back when The Wolcott House was just "...the house where Mr. and Mrs. Wolcott live").
Here it is!
A picture of my purported greatgrandfather,
Hauling rocks in a wooden wheelbarrow.
Great big Indiana Field Rocks.
Hand whittled wooden wheels, wooden handles, wooden bin.
Profession: Rock hauler (1907 Indiana wooden wheelbarrow system)
He wore dirt-grayed blue denim overalls.
Brown sweat-stained white cotton shirt.
Baggy long sleeves rolled up short against his biceps, bulging.
Collar buttoned tight against his adamapple, choking.
Bright red-streaked purple tumor tomato-size on his forehead:
Shoulders rounded from a lifetime of backbreaking,
fingersmashing stoop labor.
Windblown dirt had etched the years of
bonebruising work into his tawny
wrinkled sunbaked face.
Aunt Emma's photograph narrated
the life of the man I had never known:
calloused years of a dirt life, dirt poor, dirt death,
"He was a Swedish immigrant," Aunt Emma plops down into my
rummaging like a field rock.
"He never spoke a word of English."
His smile spoke American.
I know him.
~Mark A. Rector