Poetry / Becoming an Ancestor


Published by
Červená Barva Press

Publication date:
2015

978-0-9861111-6-7
paper, 118 pages, $17.00

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“The poems in Becoming an Ancestor begin in autobiography, move into history, and branch backward and forward through genealogy, offering instruction on the natural world along the way. Lucille Lang Day recreates her ancestors with scrupulous detail and often stunning images until her poems read like the history of anyone “born of the myths of Europe/and North America.” These myths propel Day to tell us of migrations, mutations, secrets, heartbreak, disappointments, defiance, death, and resilience—in other words, of life in all its complexity as she shows us all “which way is home” in our shared fate of becoming ancestors.”
— Lynne Knight, author of Again

“Soulfully thrilling, the poems in Becoming an Ancestor constitute—historically, geographically, emotionally, caringly—a mindful poet’s family picture album. Following centuries of fateful migrations, Lucille Lang Day becomes the California teller of tales that wow us with her own intimate versions of how need, time and again, restores our lives to living streams of love.”
— Al Young, California Poet Laureate Emeritus

“At the poetic heart of Lucille Lang Day’s Becoming an Ancestor is a series of vivid historical poems starting in the early 1600s when 13-year-old Elizabeth sails to Plymouth on the Mayflower. Rowland is in the Gold Rush, Nathan in the Union Army. Old maid Angenette has an out-of-wedlock baby with a Wampanoag Indian. The ancestors tell Day, “Welcome home. The elders have been waiting for you./Listen to their drums, the beat/of your own heart.” As the poet comes closer to becoming an ancestor herself, she details her losses and her fears, and she worries whether she is creating a masterpiece or an old pot. Read this old pot, and you will find the hand of a master.”
— Penelope Scambly Schott, author of Lillie Was a Goddess, Lillie Was a Whore

“Becoming an Ancestor carries us from the very beginning of this great clock-universe through human migrations to the bitter end, where however a horned lark is singing beside a field of silver hairgrass in winter. When this confluence produces Lucille Lang Day, who sings the world as both a family member and a scientist, and her daughters and grandchildren, they appear in the life-lines of her poems both as the homecoming of historical pilgrimages and as intertwining swirls of DNA. Here too the endings can be bitter as family members slip away. But the music of her poetry remains.”
— Emily Grosholz, Advisory Editor, The Hudson Review

 

Becoming an Ancestor

According to the dictionary, I’m not
an ancestor yet, only a grandparent
of a blond boy who clomps in his new sandals,
then throws me a ball strewn with black
stars and moons on a white background,
and a bow-legged baby girl with blue eyes,
all smiles today in her hooded carrier—
a child born the day my own grandfather
would have turned 130. He never knew
he had grandchildren, let alone great greats.

My own toddler days of warm cookies,
crayons and Betsy Wetsy dolls don’t seem
far away, but I am en route to becoming
an ancestor. Lucy and Ricky are dead.
Barbie is past fifty. Even the hippies
are history. When my grandchildren show
their grandchildren my photo in an old
album, I wonder what they’ll say.
That I swore like a trucker when I was hurt?
Blew like Vesuvius when I was mad?

They might recall I was always late, never
learned to knit or crochet, had brown hair,
couldn’t cook worth a damn but could carry
a tune, took poetry books everywhere,
liked to know birds and insects by name,
overreacted in both bad and good ways,
was unreasonably vain for someone my age,
had legs like a crane and liked to dance.

— Lucille Lang Day


From Becoming an Ancestor,
first published in ForPoetry.com