Archives for category: family tree

Melancholy’s Baby

I was a glimmering remnant,
a moon sliver she clung to
in the dark void.

I was all that remained
of her innocence and hope,
of her diaphanous love
seeping through the disrepair
of everything that mattered,
though in the end
it altered nothing—
a useless ether.

I was a bookmark,
a singular point
of goodness and perfection
along a fading timeline
well-worn and stained
with tears and wine.

Every investment in her
tenuous future
seemed to sit squarely
on my shoulders
as I marched—
some heroic ambassador
for her desperate country,
even as she secretly entertained
thoughts of self-exile.

Claire Juno, © 2012

 

…dedicated to my mother

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The Sun Will Still Rise
…a verse to my mother.

The sun will still rise
after you are gone,
with the noise of workday
traffic in the distance,
the drone of the masses
of the living, going about
their day, unaware of
your sudden absence.

The sun will still rise,
sending its indiscriminating
rays through my window
to this bereft new world,
blinding reminders
of the ambivalence
and continuance of things,
in spite of a loss that seems
to suggest, at least to me,
that everything else
should cease to exist,
in memoriam.

Just Doing My Job
...a verse in defense of the Sun.

I rose that morning
like any other,
only to find her glaring at me,
as though I had committed
some grave betrayal.

Why are you here,
she demanded to know,
and suddenly it dawned on me,
it was not that I had no reason
to be there, it was that
she could not face the day
I had brought to her.

Claire Juno, © 2015

Louise

I. The Aunt

Amid bloodied linens and basins of tepid water
in my sister’s drafty farmhouse, I held this pitiful creature
in my hands. Look at her, she’s not going to make it.
She’s the size of a shoebox.

With low expectations, I put her in an open dresser drawer
and rested beside her, my hand on her fragile chest, listening
through the night for the sound of her breathing.

II. Louise

I’ll tell you something, honey. When I was young, one of six
fisherman’s children in red dirt country, my mother would tell me,
“You’ll never amount to nothin.”

And so all my life, I felt I had to prove her wrong.
I had to be the best at everything. It made me who I am.
But I never forgot those words. Never forgot.

Claire Juno, © 2015

…for my grandmother, whose first and middle names meant war and warrior.

Letter To A Totem

Dear Red-Bird-Dotting-the-Snowy-Field:

For a minute,
I thought you were my grandfather.
And where is your olive-hued wife?
She is your perfect complement,
with a modest beauty, just like
my grandmother.

In January’s dark branches you perch,
perhaps as my beloved ancestor,
reincarnated into this feathered creature
to twitter away the bitter cold with me.

Your vivid presence calls to mind
the red dirt of southern family farms,
a yellowed ancient telegram delivering
news of your daughter’s birth to you
on a military ship,

and pole beans drying in the garden,
where your father died one morning,
leaving your mother too soon.

Claire Juno, © 2017

…dedicated to my grandfather.

Jacob’s Dream

You took me to a concert
in a darkened auditorium.
The spotlight was cast upon you,
reflected in your glasses.

You were in the lucky seat,
and the band, grooving
in their sparkly costumes
and afros, beckoned you
on stage to sing along
with them. As always,
you were game.

The crowd enjoyed the
spectacle, and cheered
your efforts, but then grew
restless, wanting to hear
more from the band.
You hopped down and
rejoined me in the audience,
just happy to be.
Joy.

We left, making our way
down a long flight of broad
white stairs, flanked by walls
on either side. We talked
comfortably, as though
we saw each other often,
but I cannot remember
what we discussed. There
were so many stairs.

A young man
with a head wound
grinned at us with a
sheepish jubilance
as he passed, going up
the same set of stairs.
We smiled back at him.

Eventually, I said something,
and you responded in turn,
the last words of an ordinary
conversation, the kind we’d had
many times before.

This must have been as far
as you could accompany me
as I descended, because then
I woke up this morning, nearly
nine years after your death,
feeling like I had sampled
someday’s home, ready to savor
today’s promise.

Claire Juno, © 2017

…dedicated to my brother.

Family Portrait

Brother is checked in
at the lodge where
the door is always open
but locks behind you, tucking
the life he leaves behind
into an assigned locker.

Father is in a faraway land
hooked to a monitor and
sucking on emergency
chocolate, searching
for his kitten, who watches
him through the window.

Sister is having babies
to put between her
and the bottle of pills,
drifting sideways through
life like a rabid dog, wild
and ready to bite those
who dare to come close.

Mother is long gone
and golden, nothing bothers her
anymore, waving blithely at us
from across the River Jordan.
Just as it should be.

And I have taken
to jumping off the garden wall
in dark masks and miles of tulle,
a timeworn street mime giving
silent instructions to my children
to remind myself that I am
still among the living.

Claire Juno, © 2016

Thresholds

Thresholds were meant
for crossing, but you linger
in the shadows, pondering
which way to fall: on one side,
music and jubilation among
gleaming strangers;
on the other side, the frayed
ends of a tangible mortal struggle.
Neither beckons.

Words swirl around your head,
and sun-faded images of your gilded past.
Wires and tubes tether you gently in place,
lest you float away.

That beeping noise does not sound
like my heart, you think, as you slip
back into sleep and resume your post
by the ethereal door.

Claire Juno, © 2016

…please pull through.

The Ancestors

There was Frank, who returned safely home
from the war only to be murdered along the railroad
tracks walking out of a bar; like any soldier,
he really does not want to relive this irony.

And the beautiful melancholy Daisy, whose
gambling husband wandered off, so she took herself
out as dramatically as she lived, with a rifle
to her head. Do you really need to dredge her up again,
asleep in Jesus in her favorite nightgown?

Why pick on us, when we have been busy disintegrating
all these years, silently minding our own business
ever since we dropped off the mortal sphere?

Whose story would you next like to retell as though
it were your own? The hoarder recluse? The boy who
fell out of a high rise window? The aunt who died
in a house fire set by the wayward orphan she raised
as her own? The miner turned faith healer?

You already know the stories so I don’t know why
you have to go and dig us all up again and again,
as though there is something more to see here.

Sure, I guess we’re interesting in an eerie sort of way,
and it is clear there is something we offer you by proxy:
a kind of context. Though at times we question
whether you are just living vicariously through what
you have unearthed about us — that because
we came before you, we are a part of you.

I suppose that is true in a sense, but our stories
belong to us. These were not your lives, your losses.

These were not your orphans, your murders and
suicides, your deadly mine collapses and miraculous
faith healings, your plane crashes and car wrecks,
your broken bones and broken hearts, your wooded
hollows, your backyard inventions.

So before we roll over and return to our eternal nap,
we are going to offer you a bit of advice.

Live your own life.

And if you are lucky — or very unlucky — you will
create your own tales of drama for the generations
to come. And someday they will poke around at the dirt
in the family plot and you will finally know how we feel.
Now leave your flowers and let us rest.

Claire Juno, © 2015

…for my father.

Sweetheart Redux

There you were.

It was only seventy-two years ago.
You, a mere twenty-two, and he, a mere
twenty-four, and it was all beginning
on that day: the requisite gains and losses
of life, of parents, of children, of jobs
and money, of health and status,
of friends and rivals.

Earth-gardens and heaven-houses,
shoes polished and lined neatly
along the edge of your shared closet floor,
the smart suit and A-line poplin dress,
plum lipstick and late night inventions
of one kind or another.

Playful babies and disinclined cats,
charitable neighbors with their hand-me-down
furniture, church folk and kin folk and
you folks, doing what all good folks do.

Breakfast sausage, wedding punch,
chocolate pies and cotton aprons,
summer parades and overalls and fresh
coats of sage green paint, three stories up
on a wooden ladder with the ease and humor
of a circus performer.

Manicured shrubbery, the studied
country yard: each perennial in its optimal place,
a scientist’s sway over his private landscape.

The briskly swept sidewalk, the rotary
phone with its clumsy charm, the slamming
screen door, the basement ping pong table,
a silent witness to everything but the game.

Ice cream socials and redolent catalpa blooms,
fire-popped corn, the grape arbor’s late summer bounty.

And that shiny red tricycle
you brought home on the city trolley
for your firstborn, your giddy joy amusingly
obvious to fellow passengers on the car,
just as it was to your children and grandchildren,
to acquaintances and strangers, and to God Himself,
winking at the two of you so many decades ago.

Claire Juno, © 2015

…dedicated to the memory of my grandparents on their anniversary.

The Origins of Eccentricity

I make my tea with ten ounces
of water just off the boil,
instead of the recommended eight.
I don’t know why it seems a worthy exchange—
diluted tea for an extra two ounces of it.
Where does this frugality come from?

Perhaps this is some sort of ancestral
angst, leftover from my forebears
who went through potato famines and
wars and the Great Depression.
Nothing wasted, not a single thread or crumb.
Milk every last bit, whether the threadbare
shirt or the stale bread or the luxury
of a single cup of good tea.

But it hardly seems fair
to put the burden of my eccentricities
on these poor beleaguered souls,
long dead and gone, with their shirts
and their crumbs and potatoes and wars.
Their frugality was hard-won
and even harder abandoned.

I do not suffer from any severe rationing;
I enjoy white tea and bittersweet chocolate
as my solitary indulgence.

Maybe it’s me, after all. Maybe I hate
following directions, or even suggested uses.
Maybe the most pleasure I can stand
is the diluted and slightly bitter variety.

Claire Juno, © 2013