I’m in the process of working on a post to clarify gender terminology, but thought in the meantime I would leave you with a poem (since I claim to be a poet and all). Full disclosure: what you are about to read is probably not in its final form, but as far as she is growing right now. I rarely feel a poem is “finished,” and think of them more as being in various states that give me more or less stress when I read them lol.
Even if you don’t write, you may be able to think of other projects you are pursuing in your life. The ball of tension fluttering around in your chest as you get to that point when the project is technically done, but you just sort of feel like it could be better (or maybe you know exactly how it could be better, but you’ve got a deadline to meet). Then, at the last minute, after staring at it and reading it over and over again, you just decide “it’s now or never” and you submit your project to the scrutiny of the outside world.
Maybe your plant-child comes to you as a seed, or as a potted sapling, but from the moment you decide to care for it, it is your responsibility to curate a nurturing environment for this new lifeform.
But a plant doesn’t really have an end. Growing is an ongoing process. There is a point, however, when a plant seems more like a mature version of itself than when it is, say, a seedling, sapling, or compost. Deciding when that point is, though, is sort of subjective and up to you as the plant-caretaker.
Keeping this analogy in mind, the below poem is somewhere on its continuum of maturity, but can still grow and evolve into a being even more full of life. I look at it, and I feel a greater potential, but I am still unsure what to change in order to facilitate further growth. Perhaps it will be entirely different by the time I have a collection published, so don’t think just because you’ve seen this version you’ve seen it all!
For background on what you are about to read, my grade school, Shamrock Elementary, requires every 5th grader conduct a very rudimentary ancestral research project known as “The Heritage Project.”. As part of preparing for this project, teachers usually go around the room and ask students where their family is from. Recently, my younger sibling—who wants to be called Fishboy for anonymity and other reasons unbeknownst to me—asked me what he should say when his teacher poses the dreaded question.
The answer should be quite simple. Well, you see, dear reader, in 5th grade, while other students were able to provide surprisingly specific places of familial origin—down to the village their great-great-great-great-great-etc grandparent was raised, in some cases—I could only trace my parent’s respective family lines back to states in the U.S., so that’s where I said I was from, “the United States.”
Everyone laughed because I am pretty phenotypically Black by most peoples’ standards, and 5th graders know very little in the grand scheme of things, but they do know that Black people aren’t indigenous to North America. So I just looked like an idiot.
My teacher, with a sort of “foolish little child” smile, said, “A lot of slaves came from West Africa, so you are probably from Ghana.”
Spoiler alert: I still can only trace my family back to the states, as the first census to document African-Americans wasn’t until 1870, and obviously before then, any records of my ancestors likely treated them as cargo (though, it should be noted, not all Black Americans are the descendants of enslaved humans).
Anyway, I had no idea what to tell Fishboy, other than that we have only definitively traced our lineage back to the shores of the U.S., so (without getting one of those DNA tests in which I am personally not interested), we cannot say what country our ancestors “come from”.
While I milled over an answer, I also began thinking of many of my fellow queer and trans people who experience a high rate of family rejection—a different form of violent severing from their heritage—and hope to find their chosen families. I am fortunate enough to have been born into a relatively supportive unit, and began to meditate on the different ways family is constructed and how we come to terms with this severing.
So, my pigeons, here is the poem:
Next time you see a hole in a tree, see it as more of a potential home than an imperfection.
—‘What’s a Tree Hollow And Why It’s Important’ from Elite Tree Care article posted on November 9th, 2017
What is left of the tree
Whose roots begin beyond the soil we breathe
Extending into layers of black earth
We can imagine but never know?
Where does this tree come from?
We only see the trunk and sparse clusters of leaves
On bare-barked branches.
We stopped counting the hives and webs
Apart from the blossoms and buds decades ago.
The bird who builds abodes
In the cavity left by a broken branch
Has become the branch itself,
The tree folding its ligneous wings
Around its feathery fruit. And when
A squirrel is barked up into its canopy,
The tree feeds them well, as if they were their own.
So when the robin leaves her bundles of sky
Warm in the hollow of the family tree,
Or the mothworm hangs from invisible tendrils
Groping like roots in the air,
Know that we are as infinite as the love we give
Each breath fertile ground for sewing seeds.
Any suggestions on how Fishboy should answer where he is “from” that won’t result in the mortification I experienced at his age? Maybe I’ll just tell Fishboy to recite “Heritage” when Ms. V calls on him. Wouldn’t that be something.
As always, thanks for stopping by & if you have any job leads, advice, or just want to chat you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in at some point in the future, who knows what I’ll cover next—the possibilities are endless in the pigeonhole.
— Connie (she/they)
Tristamshadey just tell your sib to say ‘we have traced our family back to ____ and have no record of where our ancestors came from before then’ or something else that makes it clear fishboy is giving an answer based on what he knows and also knows that there are pieces missing. Whatever you do, do NOT have fishboy recite a poem, that will just make things worse. That was really fucked up of your 5th grade teacher btw, were they white?