For the last thirteen years, I’ve been obsessed with genealogy and family history. I am continually amazed at the number of synchronicities and strange coincidences I’ve experienced in my genealogical research and the extent to which these odd occurrences have caused me to rethink my view of reality and spirituality. Whether it’s a dream of a great, great aunt telling me which county recorder’s office to contact for her lost death certificate or a whim to check out eBay, and voila, my random search term brings up a family heirloom for sale, the synchronicities make it apparent that I have much to learn about my profound connectedness (on a cellular as well as spiritual level) to my family (living and deceased). The dead in my family seem to want to be remembered, not only for their accomplishments, but also for their misfortunes—a craving for a complete and honest picture of their lives, including the closeted skeletons as well as the gifts and talents they possessed. Several years ago, my stepmother passed away and sadly, but typically, our relationship was characterized by snark. In the thirty years that we interacted, I don’t think we ever discussed anything deeper than her latest quilting project or how much mayo I wanted on my tuna sandwich. Sometime after she died, my father gave me a box of old books that had belonged to her. My initial snarky thought was, “Bring on the Danielle Steel and Harlequin Romance.” You know what was in the box? A copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s Divine Comedy, several 1930s high school literature textbooks, a Thomas Hardy novel, a volume of Greek plays, and a collection of Steinbeck’s writing, among other cool books. At the very bottom of the box was a small paperback—a copy of POETRY, 1963 (the year of my birth). I felt remorse for the years of snide comments back and forth—the two of us could have chatted about Euripides or John Berryman instead of subtly insulting each other. She read POETRY and she had kept this particular volume—did she have a subscription or did she pick up this issue somewhere and keep it because there were particular poems in it that spoke to her, poems she read again and again? As usual, I had made assumptions, pre-judged for thirty long years without attempting to truly connect and talk deeply with her. Maybe if I had taken a risk and opened up about my passions, things would have turned out differently.
Here are a few of the introductory pages in POETRY 1963:
An ad for new books—T.S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, and Richard Wilbur (three poets whose work I really like).
The 9th annual POETRY Reading with these five poets: J.V. Cunningham, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Lowell, Karl Shapiro, and Richard Wilbur (hmmm, noticing that I haven’t seen any women poets mentioned yet…).
The Table of Contents: John Berryman (Nine Dream Songs–wow), Robert Duncan, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Gary Snyder and ten other notable male poets. But, there are four women poets represented: Jean Garrigue, Carolyn Kizer, and Denise Levertov! And, a poetry translation by Elizabeth Bishop–wow!
A few weeks after bringing this box of books home, I dreamt of my deceased stepmother for the first time since her death. She was puttering around a garden and she glanced over at me, where I stood watching her. I think she smiled just a little bit and then she turned away, deadheading a rosebush.