Chosen Ancestry

by Heather Weddington

It’s that little Irish potato farmer inside,
that won’t let me quit digging.
–my brother
We keep trying to tie it back: Ireland
of songs and poetry, of cliffs and ocean,
the ways in which I’ve longed for both,
the way I’d eat potatoes at every meal
if only I could, the way we must
remember biologically-speaking.
This is historically rooted: our
shared stubbornness, our willful ignorance.
Crops we sow never yielding enough to feed us.
The disease, the Blight they called it,
demolished crops in Belgium,
Holland, France, America. But Ireland
seemed the only land where people starved.
The land partitioned, divided again
and again amongst the wealthy, the foreign.
The problem lies in the metaphor. Potatoes
weren’t the favored crop, just the one that might
stuff the bellies of those with such tiny plots.
Of course we want to tie our fate with farmers.
Histories crop up in the present as questions
to which we can’t tend. And so we rake together
an ancestry from scraps: the prefix found
in maiden names, the fire in a father’s beard,
These are memories biology can’t recall.
Heather Weddington has served as both a poetry and nonfiction editor for Barely South Review and a general editor for escarp. She will graduate from ODU’s MFA program with a concentration in nonfiction in May 2011. After graduating, she plans to spend some time in Mexico, teach composition back in the States, salsa dance as much as her feet will let her, and continue working on a collection of lyric essays. Ms. Weddington’s poem “Chosen Ancestry” received an Honorable Mention in Old Dominion University’s 2011 College Poetry Prize contest, Graduate division.