an over-constained poem about families

October 5, 2013

This poem is being written in response to the October 2013 Commuter Challenge; the format, and the six ‘end words' were chosen for me.

Sitting among kith and kin is evidence that there exists
a strong-backed and comfortable chair inside of families,
even when they’re not my own (the damning proof: no cleft chin).
Squeeze a recliner between arguments; perch amid mutual
secrets and shared glances; enjoy second-row seats for games
that are played in private, during meals, or while driving.

Oh, driving! The brutish, scalpel things they say while driving!
Quietly pointing out that another route (down the I-5) exists,
and is faster; living fingers suddenly subjected to knife games
played with sharpened steel and how-could-you-forget. Families
hewn efficiently out of mutual disdain, mutual esteem and mutual
minefields, all packed into a Subaru, overflowing with that chin!

Yes. The chin. “She has your eyes, but she has her mother’s chin.”
Isn’t it strange to share bodies? Who, exactly, was driving
this evolutionary bus? Who exchanged arms and doled mutual
extremities? But stranger still not to share them: my body exists
wholly unrelated. Frightening. Foreign. Other chins! Other families!
The games genetics plays are such strange games.

Never so strange, though, as the ancestral family games:
Card games with names like “Walnuts” and “Chinese Fen-chin”
Rules whispered ear to ear along an unbroken chain of families
stretching frozen into the past, mouths wide with driving
passion, arms aflail. Games that continue ’til sullen pain exists
in every eye and a grim silence signals that the anger is mutual.

“Mutual” is not surprising. In families, everything is mutual,
even deaths; each bony body is predestined to the same end-games:
Drooling in an easy chair and wondering if baseball still exists,
or else surgically inserting a telephone pole into the brain via the chin.
Silently, early-onset dementia and hereditary drunk-driving
(ancestral horse-drawn accidents) came with chins and families.

And ten thousand years from now, seeking ancestral families,
philosopher-kings assemble in search of a history that’s mutual.
Their violent, inherited thirsts for blood-kin and pedigrees driving
them forward, they navigate by ancient maps and sphinxian games
of logic, following sudden stars, each rubbing the same uncanny chin.
Gray homeless journeyers, they are calm, knowing their ur-family exists.

The world is full of families, and full of families’ games.
It’s packed seamlessly with mutual secrets and identical cleft chins,
buckling child after child into safety seats and driving them into a future that barely exists.

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