As we drove along the Amalfi Coast, the guide told us the mythological story of the Sirens. My daughter took a photo out the window of the Sirens’ islands.
Later I wrote this poem remembering the travails of Odysseus.
The melodious Sirens’ song
begging to be untied from
Even the roaring sea’s
voice whispered in
They sang honeyed
love songs to starving
sailors, longing for a woman’s
touch, a kiss, ecstasy.
With knife claws, they
ripped them asunder,
crunching bones, blood
Satiated, they sang,
eternal, etherial, deceptive.
Several days later at a shop in Sorrento, while my daughter was looking for a medusa cameo, the owner, a cameo artist, brought out Siren cameos. He insisted the Siren’s have been terribly misunderstood. I wanted clarification but unfortunately other customers appeared and I remain mystified.
Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times. Why did I join? To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.
I rarely read fantasy or science fiction. This summer has become an exception. The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016. The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018. I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all. The spine says Fantasy. I think they are more science fiction. Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all. This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly, how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.
It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break. Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana. It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations. His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.
In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts. Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.
Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white. They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it. I kept thinking, wow. I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America. Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse. Not in this one. If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult. Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy. When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA. Really? I cannot tell the difference.
Next on my list? I annually act as a judge in a literary contest. Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail. Guess I need to get busy.
4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers
(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what
3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be
Who am I? What am I?
Who are you? What are you?
Do we really know?
Who sets the rules?
from where and for whom?
He looks Navaho:
-blue black straight hair
-pale brown skin
One four year old girl asks him,
“Are you American Indian?”
His six year old self says nothing.
“Are you American Indian?”
He says, “It’s complicated.”
The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.
He needs 1/4, not 1/8.
Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.
1/4 blood is for
1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.
Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.
But he is none of those.
Is he Navaho?
Is he white?
The old South goes by the one drop rule:
one drop of Negro…
Is a person with 99/100 per cent white
and 1/100 black, black?
Kids at school ask, “What are you?”
He tells them.
They say, “You’re lying.”
I only know specifically about two ancestors,
the Swiss Germans.
Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.
I don’t even know his name.
Who am I?
Who are you?
I think I’ll get a DNA test.
Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.
Note: This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”. I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information. I looked up more myself. That one great grandfather remains a mystery. I had my DNA done. It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.
Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian. Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.
Several months ago I decided to participate in the Human Genome Project through National Geographic. When I called to order the kit, the young man reminded me that as a woman, I would receive only one half of my ancestry, the female half. Since women do not have a Y chromosome, a woman can only trace her female family line through her mitochondrial DNA. He suggested I use my grandson’s DNA so I would receive complete results. Of course, that meant that in the end, I would have to factor in what I knew about his father’s family and deduct that to determine my own. After the Geno 2.0 kit arrived, we took his cheek swabs and mailed them off. This week when we returned from an 11 day family road trip, the results arrived. With the results came detailed explanations of human migratory history and even comparisons of populations with DNA most like his. Although none were close, the top two groups were people in Bermuda and Mexican Americans. Luckily, the information contained a detailed explanation of the people of Bermuda. The Native American results I expected since his great grandfather was Navaho. Other parts came as somewhat a surprise. Once again I am taking a poetry class and now working on publishing a book of my poetry so I decided to write a poem about this experience.