On the river

On the River

From my mother:
the flare of my nostrils,
the predilection for pens,
the insatiable desire for the ocean.
She gives me carrots in lemon zest,
potato latkes fried in oil,
money for the ride home.

From Pops:
the squint in my eyes
the clench of my jaw
that itch to have a job,
to move, to hustle.
Pops gives and gives and gives--

a new battery for my car,
lightbulbs for the back porch,
running shoes for the next big race.

My Amah gave me this cackle,
a bookshelf full of red books,
family history recorded in sheet music.
She gave me words I still don't understand
but need just as much.

Gramma Jackson could ride
a bicycle backwards with her body
facing the back wheel.
I once saw her reel in a 140-lb halibut
off the side of an Alaskan boat.
She refused help,
even when the fish
pulled her back and forth
along the narrow bow.
She was 76.

I'd like to think
I got my pull from her -
but I could never quite get
my fish in the boat.

Grampa Fred taught me
how to record,
how to measure,
how many pounds, how many inches,
how many gallons.
How much we could not measure:

How do you quantify
winning a pinochle game
against a whole mess
of boy cousins?
Or filling the church
that hot Saturday last October
when Gramma left us,
her head always proud,
her feet always firmly on dry land.

It was my brother
who gave me this heart,
laden with words I still chase -
the way he chases waves,
bigger, endlessly bluer,
than the waves we grew up surfing.

I never knew Grampa Leahn
but what I do know I feel
on the river:
in the hush hush of egrets
chattering over the hum of the boat -
riparian radio, Mom calls it.

I sense him in the silt
that settles between my toes.

Our family is found in the Earth,
solid as granite,
forgiving as sand,
fluid as the river.

--after Linda Hogan's "Heritage," written during Roohi Vora's afternoon writing group at the San Jose Area Writing Project, June 2012