The Singing

By Faith Shearin

The cottage had been built by my great grandfather
who sat alone, in the shade, dressed in work boots
and overalls; I knew he was surrounded by

people I could not see: a mother who wore black 
and arrived everywhere early, a brother who died of 
a fever, a father who plowed the memory of fields.

When my great grandmother asked me
about my boyfriends she was remembering
her own suitors, who appeared to her in a parlor,

beside a fireplace, each of them hoping for a wife
who could behead chickens. When she
cut the shape of a dress directly from fabric, without

a pattern, I knew she was listening to the instructions
of the dead. Time had erased
my grandmother's brothers whose photos hung

in the bedroom where I slept: young
and happy, dressed in uniforms, gathered
around a radio I could not hear. I knew time was 

why my father had no father, why the cat he loved
all through childhood had become
a scar on his hand, a story about a day he tried 

to save it from a fight. I knew the faces of the ancestors
which hung in eerie oval frames had vanished into 
a sepia silence. My grandfather was about

to go water skiing and my mother, still thin, was locked
in a bathroom where she teased her hair. I was turning
thirteen and the river ran behind me, and the cake

was lit; I leaned forward, into the singing.
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About Faith Shearin

Faith Shearin is the author of five books of poetry: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), The Empty House, Moving the Piano, Telling the Bees , and Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Poetry Prize). Recent work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review and Poetry East and has been read aloud by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. She is the recipient of awards from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work also appears in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poets and in American Life in Poetry. She lives with her husband, her daughter, and a small, opinionated dachshund in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia.

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