It is hard to picture the ancestors
Kneeling by her grandmother’s altar
Candles lit to the gone but not forgotten
Air laden with the most recent wet-season downpour
Rain so fast and thick and wet it is as if a cosmic dam has burst open
and the water rushes to make its way back to the earth and
take up a more peaceful residence
in the always damp corners of the family compound

I am an other, foreigner, visitor
Large, so large my body drapes precariously off the ubiquitous scooters
White, so white I am almost funny to them, a friendly ghost
with sinister ancestral ties to empire

These are not my ancestors who lived their lives here amidst the catacombs of extended family
clay pots of sour soups, sweet with bites of pineapple & fermented soy
caramelized catfish flaking in bowls of steaming rice

I am far from my own ancestors’ cycles
Mangos in the market so big they require two hands to lift them
Perfect syrupy black coffee and sweet milk
Baguettes stuffed with meats and cilantro and pickles
Fried dough wrapped in lettuce and dipped
Rain always rain
and the hum of a thousand scooters

They bought me new clothes
had them sewn, labor being cheaper than retail
slick polyester rayon cut to drape modestly
but they are unhappy with my choice of navy blues and maroons
old lady colors grandma tells me, not right for me

My ancestors don’t spring to mind like hers do
but every spring when I plant a pot of petunias, grandma is there
and there are all the others of course
genetic time bombs of diabetes, addiction, heart disease
I have not cultivated a practice of recalling them
Naming them
Praying to and for them
feeding them as she does

Kneeling beside her in Saigon
praying to her time bombs of fortune
lighting a candle for her ancestors
I search my memories of those to whom I owe my existence
the clearest picture I have is
a pod of wright whales
cutting through the water
trusting the water to hold them up

I offer this autobiographical poem to invite you into reflecting on your own experience and perhaps inventing your own ancestor rituals or reclaiming those that already exists in your wisdom traditions. And what is the larger web of life that you are tied to ancestrally? I’ve written more about my own creative ancestors real and imagined here and elsewhere and started this writing project with an acknowledgement of what came before on The Project page. I hope to continue adding to these resources on ancestor practices and would love to hear about yours!

1 thought on “ancestors”

  1. This poem made me weep for all I have been gifted with and all the sacrifice that entailed – all the paths that were cleared for me as I entered this story – paths I didn’t even know were there. Now I step consciously off those paths and enter the ancestral flow of water.

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