BloodLines: "The Cold/Family of Origin" by Julie Bruck
We’ve partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a new literary series: BloodLines. Inspired by this year’s Massey Lectures by Lawrence Hill, Blood: The Stuff of Life, BloodLines features new fiction, nonfiction and poetry inspired by the theme of blood—written by ten Canadian writers who have won or been nominated for Governor General’s Literary Awards.
In Julie Bruck’s two BloodLines poems, family roots are tenacious, quarrelsome, and crazy about pinochle.
* * *
The cold that finally killed my father lives
in me now, despite seven months—no, eight—
of steroid sprays, antibiotics, antibacterials,
and whatever else modern medicine has
thrown at it. When he died, I was at 30,000 feet,
flying east, and by the time I arrived, a van
had already taken the body, leaving my brothers,
his second wife, and her daughter huddled
in the house with his aftermath, his little
black dog, and the cold. I was three hours
late—and years too late to mend the divisions
left between us. After a day, the dog stopped
searching for my father, so I ceased trying
to distract her, and nurtured his cold instead.
I've had X-rays and blood tests, now there's
talk of a CAT scan. Perhaps my body loved
its father better than I did in this life, wants
to make amends for harboring a divided heart.
Perhaps we could have duked it out earlier—
two figures on a shaky trestle bridge.
But the last thing I wanted was to imperil
a 98-year-old I'd have had to tackle to
protect, what with each of us dragging our
own convictions, heavy as wet cement. Now,
my primary care doctor is losing interest,
and I am so done with this left lung,
that won't let me sleep or bend to pick up
the morning paper without feeling stabbed,
then brought to my knees. I barely cried
when I got there too late, could only offer
my arms to the others who'd seen him through,
a lap to the shaken dog, and a chest for his cold.
Unless, that is, he's sticking around for his own
purposes, making sure I mourn him right.
In which case I'd say, it's okay, you can
go now, frail old father with so much fight.
I won’t forget you. How it sears
every time I try to breathe you out.
Family of Origin
Actually, since we carry his peoples' long spines,
bear with age their jutting lower jaws, why not
cleave our mother's side (depression's
drooping left eye) to our father's bulldog
element (judgments about dead cousins, that
fiery certainty). Oh, he could be unforgiving!
Gone now, with his line of opinionators in felt
hats and fine shoes, who measured disputes
in lifetimes: bedridden, almost a hundred, he
jawed on about a stolen painting, absolutely
knew who took it, the guy's a scoundrel,
let me tell you something—And what now,
my aging brothers (one gentle, one guarded),
no more grudges or feuds, no tantrums in
our telomeres? Trumped, the divisive gene, that
passionate protein for marathon spleen? Let's
quarrel, let's fire up the ingrained shtetl
reflex from Lodz or Long Island, the tally pads of
scrappers who made chasms of card games or cash,
took them to the grave, stubborn as muscle and equally
unyielding, their sheer conviction a kind of
vaccine against inwardness, and since we miss his dismissive
wattage right now, let's mine this mah-vel-us
excitation, this genius for bicker in the bone—fuse his
yang to her yin, and summon those players encrypted at Mount
Zion, still pitching a hissy fit over pinochle.
A Montreal native, Julie Bruck has lived in San Francisco since 1997. She has published three collections with Brick Books, Monkey Ranch (2012), The End of Travel (1999), and The Woman Downstairs (1993). Monkey Ranch won the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry in 2012. Her poems have appeared in many Canadian and U.S. magazines, including The New Yorker, Maisonneuve, The Walrus, Ploughshares, The Malahat Review and Ms, and she's had fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Canada Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Since 2005, Julie has taught workshops at The Writing Salon in San Francisco's Mission district, and tutored students at the University of San Francisco.
Photo credit: Kara Schleunes