Poet of the Month
I Had a Family
What with the wars, and the spread of sickness,
and women who sought to escape their shame,
orphans were not rare in the countryside.
I had not always lived as an orphan.
My father was always a ghost to me.
I'd stopped asking my mother about him,
but I can clearly recall my mother.
She always held her head high when we went
to market. I didn't know why people
whispered. I didn't see our life as strange.
The daughter of a single mother born
to the daughter of a single mother
surely kept the old gossips smoldering.
They sputtered on behind us as we walked.
Mama stood tall until the day she died.
I was six. Aunt and Uncle took me in.
I earned my keep laboring on their farm.
They were not really my aunt and uncle
but told me to call them that. So I did.
They never felt like family to me.
I knew what family was. I had one
once, and I held fast to that memory,
an orphan child in an orphan country,
not sure whose history to lay claim to.
The sun set early in the wintertime.
We walked home from the school day in darkness.
I returned to work. I gathered the wood
for our evening fire. If no one had yet
gone for water, I went. I took the horse
and cart with a barrel to the river.
We kept a hole punched through the ice for water.
I filled the barrel bucket by bucket,
trying not to spill water on my skirt
or on my shoes. When I came back a hired
hand and I made sure to fill all the troughs
for the night. I touched the bristled foreheads
of the thirsty cattle that came to drink
even as we filled the trough. Tired, hungry,
I ate my bread and read my books for school,
crawled to bed, and fell asleep exhausted.