When I was a child my father would tell us stories about shapes in the forest or Indian burial grounds. When it rained and the light was turquoise blue he would tell us a story about a man who was home alone at night when he received a phone call. In the story the man heard a gravelly voice on the other end of the line—"I'm five miles away." Click. In a few minutes the phone rang again. "I'm four miles away." Click. Until the voice on the phone said “I’m right outside your front door," and then my dad would jump on us and tickle our sides, and I can't remember if the story had any end.
My father's father was a yellowed husk of a man when I knew him, pallid in a black chair and bald as an egg. My brother and I pushed him around the parking lot in the evening, two little kids barely able to manoeuver his wheelchair over the speed bumps on the asphalt. He died of an explosion in his brain on my brother's sixth birthday and I can't remember if I was sad, and when he was a waxen corpse at the funeral home I can't remember if I touched his body.
They say he could smell oranges when oranges weren't there. And they say this is why my father grew up on a diet of cow's tongue and my grandmother worked at the library. And so I blamed my father's father for the way my dad still sometimes goes into conniptions at the thought of spending money, I blamed him until the day I read the letter that said my father’s father would never leave the church building until all the chairs had been put away.
My father's father's father did not die of the black lung. He died of his lungs being scraped raw with silica, he died of his lungs being filled with sand. They say he fought in the war but I'm not sure which one, all I know is that a bullet struck his backpack when it should have struck his head and that's why I’m here.
This is the man who came across the sea. He lived in Montana but he was not born there, he was born in the smallest town between the two smallest countries to the east of Italy. They called it Wooden Church Upon the River.
My father's father's father's father had four children that I know of, whose names I cannot pronounce. My father's father's father's father's father had a second son with almost the same name as a Slovenian man I knew in Munich, who I will never see again.
I know nothing of my father's father's father's father's father's father besides his name. But I wonder if he also had explosions in his mind, if he could smell oranges when oranges weren't there, if a bullet ever found his back when it should have found his head.
I think of my father and my father’s father’s father and my father's father's father's father's father's father and I wonder if any of them ever thought about the colors of the sky—because if not then where did all these colors in my mind come from? I cannot live if I cannot trace the source of the fire in my blood, if I cannot explain why my father's sister plays so many instruments or why her son who I have never met travels the world with his harmonica—I cannot live if I cannot explain why I cannot sleep at night if I have ideas in my mind, I cannot live if I do not know whether my father's father's father's father's father's father was ever compelled by the same undeniably cosmic hand to create, to create, to make something, everything, anything.
I know nothing of my father's father's father's father's father's father besides his name. But I know of his son and his son's son and his son's son's son and his son's son's son's son's son's son because I am his daughter.
But if my children who do not exist except for in my mind ask me someday why their minds are full of fire oh then what am I going to say—!