My husband thinks "Roots" is an angry poem. I don't think of it that way. I remember writing it. In fact, I remember writing every single one of my poems: where I was, what I was feeling, what sparked the thought. I wrote "Roots" eight years ago. It was the latter half of my junior year of high school. I remember because there are some lines I cut out of the beginning of that poem. Lines that, when I looked back at the poem some years later, seemed blatantly out of place.
It was a week night. I remember I was up late because I'd worked that night. By the way, the number of grocery stores staffed almost completely by high school students is staggering. I was trying to finish my ecology homework, which was putting me to sleep. I took ecology because I'm terrible with math and I didn't think I could survive physics. I know I was doing ecology because one of the lines I cut said something like, "my undone ecology homework looks up at me, blinking, blinking," or some nutty stuff like that.
I think I'd been collaging too, because there were National Geographics all over the floor around me. I always used National Geographics in collage. They have the best pictures. What got me started thinking about this poem was a map of Jerusalem. It was folded up, sitting next to my foot. You know, one of those maps they insert into the magazine when it has some relevance to a story? I remember the map because of another line I took out. Something about, "the Bird schmoozing with his sax, a map of Jerusalem at my foot." I used to always listen to Charlie Parker when I did my homework in high school. Anyway, I started to think about Jerusalem, and how the three major western religions claim ownership of that holy city. Then, how we're all connected, all "standing on the shoulders of giants." How, if you really think about it, all the religions are connected in some way because they all share oral traditions and themes like rebirth. This naturally led me to think about my ancestors.
Well, maybe not my ancestors, per se, but my family. The older people. The ones who helped shape both my genetic makeup and my personality. Especially my father's family. I have less contact with them, but I was feeling pretty lazy, and feeling guilty about being lazy. My dad's family, and by them I mean my grandfather's brothers and sisters, are not the most productive bunch. But mostly, I thought about Daddy Hoot, who was my great grandfather.
My father adored Daddy Hoot. Mostly, I think, because Daddy Hoot was the exact opposite of my grandfather. Daddy Hoot was laid back, he drank (maybe a bit too much), and he was very earthy. I mean directly connected. The man worked as a gravedigger. However, my grandfather was very cold, ethereal, more concerned with the spirit. Anyway, my dad spent summers with Daddy Hoot and my great grandmother.
Dad and his younger brother loved digging graves with Daddy Hoot. They ran around barefoot, didn't take baths, rode on the tractor, and helped their Uncle Bit on the farm. It was your typical CountryTime Lemonade commercial.
I mean, they weren't exactly lazy. They had a little subsistence farm going on, but Daddy Hoot was always doing a different odd job. When he got paid, he'd go on a two- or three-day bender until he turned up at home one day filthy, hungover, and with very little cash left. It's not hard to see why my grandfather turned out the way he did.
I guess, in that moment, putting off my homework and feeling guilty about it, I felt pretty connected to my irresponsible great grandfather. I'm a procrastinator, an idler, a forgetter. If there's any anger in that poem, it's directed at me. But at the same time, that poem is a celebration of my heritage. I mean, all those images remind me of the south: the food, the river, the blackberries. I've always felt a visceral connection to this land, and I think I expressed that fairly well. You can be angry at something you love, but that doesn't mean you don't appreciate it.