The Gulf

‘The country is so barbarously large and final. It is too much country . . . alternatively drab and dazzling . . . so wrongfully muddled and various that it is difficult to conceive of it as all of a piece.’ ***

I was looking at amap last night.

A satellite version of the hurricane map, showing the geology of the continent. The mountains and plains and rivers, the canyon shelves hidden by the Gulf’s surface, right underneath where that storm is sitting out there. It’s strange to contemplate something like a hurricane in relation to the immovable mass of the earth. It’s only another storm, the last of hundreds, thousands even. I’ve hung out with geologists, and they have an interesting perspective on things. Storms, wars, politics, human history, climate change? They acknowledge that stuff, they take it seriously, don’t get me wrong, but in general, I’d say they have an easier time “taking the long view” than most of us. The land, the rock of it, the continent is old and huge and worn down, and it’s going to outlast us all. 

But we, this country, this idea of an “us,” connected by blood, by heart, by ideals or just plain logistics, family to family, kinships and affiliations and cultures, over time and distance, this big sprawling living map of genetics, willpower, culture and circumstance, this “we the people?” We are such a very, very young place, and I think we forget that.

I found a ring in a box last night. 

I still have a few boxes I just never seem to get to the bottom of. Three or four of them, the ones marked FAMILY. Family stuff, my own family, the one my ex tossed me out of, and my larger family. My family of origin. That term, family of origin, it speaks to me. More as a writer than a family type person, though. There’s a lot of ambiguity in those words, and there’s a lot of distance, in every sense of the word, between my family members.

So this ring. It’s a wedding ring, a gold band, and I do not have a clue whose it was. The size tells me it was likely a woman. know it wasn’t my mother’s, or her mother’s. Whoever it was, she had small fingers, smaller than mine. Her ring fits my pinkie, and it’s there now. There are any number of aunts and great aunts it might have belonged to. If it’s any of the ones I knew, I imagine they’d be surprised to find I was the one that ended up with their wedding ring.  

Ironically enough, while my clan has never been adept at the family thing, there were a few of them, my parents included, that were obsessed with our family origins. My European ancestors got here a long time ago, and my native forebearers, of course, were already here by then. Nobody ever seems to have gotten very rich or powerful but they were on hand for a lot of history. I wonder what they would make of us now. I wonder if they did what they did with the future in mind, or whether they were just poor slobs slugging away trying to get by, like most of us. Maybe a little of both. Would they be disappointed with us, the children of the children of their children? With this country we built, the one we’ll leave for those who come after us?

I think most of us have more than one family of origin, communities, cultures, maybe just friends, that helped form us every bit as much those who contributed to our genetic structure. And those families–our radical ancestors, our suffragettes, our queer-shouldered poet peaceniks, those ancestors who stand in line behind all of us dirty fucking hippies and handed down this spirit, or hope, or vision or whatever it is we all share now — what would they think of where we are? What would they want us to do in these next few months?

Ancestors, Edith Frost

***Opening lines of Billy Lee Brammer’sThe Gay Place, one of the best books about politics ever written.

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