Secret Story

In the early days of our family,

your grandmother had long brown hair

and bangs

and wore light-washed jeans,

blousy shirts tucked in at high waists,

big belts,

eye liner. 

She wore earrings like your teachers wear now—

themed for the seasons. 

She baked eighty cupcakes 

for every school party, 

painted our names on our lunch boxes, 

hand-drew Christmas cards 

at the kitchen table 

late at night. 

I can see her, younger than I am now, 

when I see you in 

the same styles she wore,

nearly grown up. 

Your grandfather had

curly red hair—lots of it—

and he was fat, then, 

angry and red faced

nearly all the time I can remember.

If you could see him then,

You wouldn’t know him at all. 

I want to tell you what it was like

in the early years, but can you understand 

how people can be dipped clean,

changed in the twinkling of an eye? 

All the generations before you

tell the secret story 

quietly to each other,

while we eat bread pudding, here,

standing at the island 

in your grandmother’s kitchen. 

We marvel at the surprise ending.

The beginning is frightening,

hard to tell,

not for children. 

We speak low. 

We are trying to protect

your grandmother from pity, 

your grandfather from himself. 

We are trying to protect you 

from a small way of understanding 

something we have resolved 

to let be. 

I’m sorry. 

I find I cannot tell it, even now,

though the story is yours, too. 

Though the blood 

and the anger 

of our family 

is the story of your own. 

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