Home > Poetry > Sweet Salvage
Published: Tue Jul 1 2008
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Sweet Salvage

The great uncles
can’t put the video
cameras down.
Once it was us aloft,
flying the broad,
Biblical shoulders
to Yiddish yingalongs,
those dying chants
they put to dance
with made-up words.
Then one day
the uncles came
encumbered, as if
from a forty-year
crossing, capturing
every golden note
and nod. No more
“This is what happened,”
they say today,
and play it back.
“That’s you, that’s us.”
No need to indulge
an argument;
if someone recalls
it happened otherwise,
they must be mad—
after all, there it is.
Their pale mouths
hang open
as they lean in for
reminders: so many
family inanities and
sharp shifts of
mood, their thirsty
tongues clicking little
pink and white drawers
in place of the real
teeth long lost.
One drops
a big old so-called
happy tear,
until another
says, “Enough,”
and then it’s turned
off.  But mostly
the uncles shake
shiny freckled heads,
and before they
sleep, they nod—
it’s dangerous not to
keep the ON on,
as someone could
miss something—
like somebody’s
greats and grands,
all the shayner-kops,
they say in that sweet
salvage of syllables
long gone, millions
of little “pretty heads”
at once—
you could miss them,
then doubt it ever
happened, and never
know who did
what to whom,
or what to blame
when you wake.

Sara London is the author of The Tyranny of Milk, a collection of poetry published by Four Way Books in Spring 2010. Her poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, The Iowa Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry East, the Poetry Daily anthology, AGNI Online, Salamander, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing and literature at Mount Holyoke College and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. (updated 7/2009)

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