Family Lines

Family Lines
Or Why It’s Complicated to Be a Southern Raised German Born Jewish Peacenik Hippie Child of Veterans

My life is just some generational transformational
geographical fishing polarity road show.

My mom grew up staring at an old castle
high within the German mountains.
She was staring right into another country,
looking across the river from west to east.
She couldn’t cross over to visit for the mines
that filled the land and river,
and the Russian border guards stood
with their bullets, ready to deliver.

She grew up beside the train station
where no longer any trains did run.
My great-grandfather worked upon the railroads
during World War Number One.
My grandfather was a barber—
he was always cutting hair.
I remember walking along the train tracks
when I was over there.
I’d be picking up snail shells
from the cobblestones right after the rains.
These days my mom attends ceremonies
for stolpersteins.
She takes care of my grandfather,
as he’s running out of time.

I learned how to be ashamed I was born a German,
in the schoolrooms of a Louisiana private school,
when my classmates found out I was foreign.
They called me a Nazi,
and I had to ask mom just what that was.
I don’t remember my mum’s answer—
just that I wasn’t one.

But the insult stuck inside my head,
and the pain—it lasted.
Looking back I’m not the least surprised
about their stereotyping ways,
because I also remember at school assemblies
dancing white kids dressed in blackface.

With the school bells rang a message loud and clear:
“We all know just where you’re from,
and you ain’t really from here.
You’ll take no pride in where your family was from.
You just forget about all that, and be a good American.”

I am a worldly immigrant
with many European summers spent
out riding trains and touring castles,
and not in summer camps,
aside from brief day time bible school,
where I did not believe in everything,
but really liked to sing.

Eating strange foods in other languages seemed fantastic,
and for all that early experience,
I must thank my mum,
for all the normal I never will know,
traveling was more fun.

My dad loves Elvis, gospel songs,
cowboy movies, and Old Glory.
He’s the one who taught me how to draw,
and the art of telling stories.
His tales were filled with childhood,
his army days, and that of prisoners that he guarded.

His father descended from a farming family
out of Georgia and the Carolinas.
In the war he worked in communications
and stormed the beaches at Normandy.

My dad says he remembers
when the schools got integrated.
He lived down south, and unlike some,
his heart wasn’t filled with hatred.
Dad was raised in a family of nine children—
dirt poor out in Mississippi.
They moved down there by Galveston,
out to small town Santa Fe,
but I knew nothing of Vietnamese fishermen
or sundown towns back in the day.

When I was in Texas as a child,
all I knew was dinner with my cousins,
feasting on cornbread and lima beans on Thanksgiving Day.
Most of them came up playing guitars, fiddles, or just pranks.
No words of the many Confederates
that are hiding in the family tree.
In my tree, of soldiers, there are so many,
in every war declared in American history.

And so my dad’s dream was to join the U.S. Army
for some noble cause to fight among their ranks,
just like many of his brothers.
He ended up in Germany,
guarding border walls and driving around in tanks.

On the night he met my mom,
there appeared a round of free drinks.
Each one looked to each other,
assumed, and gave a loving wink.
As it turns out some random stranger,
some matchmaker of fate,
had bought the whole bar a drink,
but for my parents, it was a date.
That’s how come I exist
with all this history on my plate.

They had one child together before me:
my one brother, brother James.
He lived three months, having died in surgery,
and the image of his grave is etched upon my mind.
My dad says the night my brother died,
a ghost ripped open the windows.
When family starts with broken hearts,
nothing will be the same, though.
I asked one day for a photo of James,
and he said, “Look in the mirror.”

When I was born in that summer of the eighties,
my parents chose America,
filling out reams of paperwork,
so my life would begin as a citizen.

Mix into that my Jewish soul,
a healthy heap of idealistic hippie lefty predilection,
rock and roll, a rebellious soul,
the bullying of this nerdy tomboy intellectual,
longing for some far away
freedom lands just like did my mother,
getting in trouble at school
for doing art just like did my father,
and you’ll hear the heartbreak in this poem
rings stranger than fiction.

This is the back story to my Oklahoma rambles
and my California dreaming.
I dream of the railroads, cut my own hair,
oppose war, tell stories, and keep scheming.

Tear down the stereotypes of your mind,
forget the apparent contradictions,
and this is why I am who I am—
what can exist in one single person!

Call me then a bleeding heart
or one whose heart breaks for their art.
I don’t see myself the victim of some intergenerational karma,
but I aim to stand up on the correct side,
as the present once again repeats the past.
Of that I’m bound and determined this test to pass.

Else what from a single life,
might any of us be learning?

D.L. Lang
D.L. Lang
Diana L. Lang is Poet Laureate of Vallejo, California. She has published nine poetry books under the pen name D.L. Lang, won several awards at area county fairs, and enjoys participating in the spoken word community of Solano County.
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