Home > Poetry > It Runs in the Family
Published: Sun Oct 15 2023
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
AGNI 98 Family Home Journeys
It Runs in the Family

like horses through the smoke
of a field on fire. We dance
in its light, which has surrounded

us since we were born & grown
in intensity ever since. My brothers
& I occupy separate bricks

on the same bridge: outside
the scripts we learnt in school
for ways that human thinking

blooms. Or should. Our neighbor
-hoods were laboratories,
their explosive effects embedded

in us, one might say, the way color
holds feeling. The basics of popular
Lockean dicta offer little to clarify

how I came to be here like this,
in this mind, upside
down. The doctor says

It runs in the family and doesn’t
explain. The war runs in
my father’s blood like arrows

through elk. Is that how you
mean? The prison runs in my
brother’s blood like language

through an era. There is a boy alone
in a room, at a desk, at the bottom
of a pile, and the words run through

his brain when he hears you speak,
like a mutiny unspooling. We arrive
in this life with so much already

inscribed. I sing to my son Careful
when he attempts to achieve liftoff.
Morrison’s children were shocked

to learn they couldn’t fly. As was I.

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Joshua Bennett is the author of five books of poetry, criticism, and narrative nonfiction, including most recently Spoken Word: A Cultural History (Alfred A. Knopf, 2023) and The Study of Human Life (Penguin Books, 2022), which won the Paterson Poetry Prize, was longlisted for both the Griffin International Poetry Prize and the Massachusetts Book Award, and is being adapted for television in collaboration with Warner Brothers Studios. The recipient of fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, he is professor of literature and Distinguished Chair of the Humanities at MIT and lives in Massachusetts with his family. (updated 10/2023)

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