Where I Come From

April 1, 2018

Where I come from

Tea cups clinked in saucers with all that was left unsaid.

No hints at all in the fabrics,

The itchy horsehair piano seat from a German great-grandmother,

Frilly organdy letting in light from the “laced-curtained Irish” side.

Imported memories, cups of “Elizabeth’s” coronation, “Philip’s” dubbing, “Charles”’ birth - 

Held court on a display case as if they belonged to



Not much from a ship that stopped briefly in Naples to refuel before flooding New York Harbor with the motley


Blurred images of a grand-father who died when I was three.

“The ‘Black Irish’,” my mother, laughing from under a straw hat big as the lid of a trash can,

Ducking beneath a grove of venerable shady elms, as my brother and I flitted carelessly

As bait fish and cavorted with our father in the damning waves of sun. 

We got sunburns. Sometimes, freckles, but not too many. Life was good.

The malarial cast to my skin in winter, not an approved topic.

No one questioned the recessive,

The happy way blue eyes find each other and make love in the night to the



Everything else.


One neglected relic,

A small brass ash tray etched with elephants and palm trees,

Pitch black inside and smelling strongly of ash, lingered on an end table,

Though no one in our family smoked.

“Your grand-father was so handsome, people thought he was a movie star.”

The perpetual tan before tanning was “de riguer”.

There was no tarnish correct English and the proper use of a sterling dessert fork

Could not polish off in a single


Nothing that could not be unsaid long enough to make it disappear.

“British” was not a lie on country club applications.

Charm and the Episcopal Church performed their gracious



A funny little brown man, who said he was a cousin, once came to visit from London,

And spoke chirpily in a perfect Oxford accent of Madras, and presented, ceremonially,

A black and white picture of a small, dark woman in a sari

Who sat staring out regally from a stool in the dirt and fronds, head high, arms sternly crossed.

“Isn’t that interesting?”

And he was fed and thanked and sent on his way, and afterwards the “interesting” picture



We drank only coffee and decaf after that.

We lived in the right neighborhood.  Attended the right schools.  Swam in the right pools,

In waters so bright no dark secrets could cast a shade.

And without a backward glance, we were washed clean in the

American Dream.


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