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By Faith Shearin

The cottage had been built by my great grandfather
who sat alone, in the shade, dressed in work boots
and overalls; I knew he was surrounded by

people I could not see: a mother who wore black 
and arrived everywhere early, a brother who died of 
a fever, a father who plowed the memory of fields.

When my great grandmother asked me
about my boyfriends she was remembering
her own suitors, who appeared to her in a parlor,

beside a fireplace, each of them hoping for a wife
who could behead chickens. When she
cut the shape of a dress directly from fabric, without

a pattern, I knew she was listening to the instructions
of the dead. Time had erased
my grandmother's brothers whose photos hung

in the bedroom where I slept: young
and happy, dressed in uniforms, gathered
around a radio I could not hear. I knew time was 

why my father had no father, why the cat he loved
all through childhood had become
a scar on his hand, a story about a day he tried 

to save it from a fight. I knew the faces of the ancestors
which hung in eerie oval frames had vanished into 
a sepia silence. My grandfather was about

to go water skiing and my mother, still thin, was locked
in a bathroom where she teased her hair. I was turning
thirteen and the river ran behind me, and the cake

was lit; I leaned forward, into the singing.
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