Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Josephine Miles; Family

Here's a splendid poem by Josephine Miles. It's always reminded me of Stevie Smith's poem, "Not Waving But Drowning," but it's a bit less bleak. Miles (1911-1985) taught for a long time at U.C. Berkeley. Rheumatoid arthritis physically disabled her considerably. I heard/saw her read at U.C. Davis in the late 1970s, and an assistant had to carry her into and out of rooms. She gave a great reading. Her poems are droll and intelligent. The poem (from the Poetry Foundation website, so I think it's okay to post it), which my friend, and former classmate at U.C. Davis, likes very much:

Family

by Josephine Miles

When you swim in the surf off Seal Rocks, and your family
Sits in the sand
Eating potato salad, and the undertow
Comes which takes you out away down
To loss of breath loss of play and the power of play
Holler, say
Help, help, help. Hello, they will say,
Come back here for some potato salad.

It is then that a seventeen-year-old cub
Cruising in a helicopter from Antigua,
A jackstraw expert speaking only Swedish
And remote from this area as a camel, says
Look down there, there is somebody drowning.
And it is you. You say, yes, yes,
And he throws you a line.
This is what is called the brotherhood of man.

* * * * * *

Here's a different kind of poem about family:

Family Legends, Small and True

by Hans Ostrom

Thomas, my father’s uncle, fist-fought
my father’s grandfather—yes, it was quite
a tangle of relations, a knuckle-riot.
This happened during the first course
of the family’s Christmas banquet in
the tall white clapboard house on a hill
in a gold-mining town, California.

They fought beside a long table. They
did not take the fight outside. Each knocked
the other down. Dining resumed. This
happened in the Ago all families, yours and
mine, occupy—that vast astral soup of time.

One day Thomas merely left and was not;
and was not heard; and was not heard from
again, ever. No news of him since: that
is a species of immortality—everlasting,
immutable Disappearance. Thomas will
never amount; he will never amount to
anything except a fistfight and a dis-
appearance and these words, which Thomas,
after a fashion writes, letting me

hear from him now that the others are all
gone, and dessert and coffee, brandy and
cigars are served, and a piece of raw, cold
steak is applied to his bruised face, and
filial hatred glows like a kerosene lamp.

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom








Post a Comment