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by Lucille Lang Day
Grandfather, I have come to Acushnet,
Land of the Cushenas, settled by the Pilgrims in 1639
and bought for 30 yards of cloth, 8 moose skins,
15 axes, 15 hoes, 15 pairs of breeches, 8 blankets,
2 kettles, 1 cloak, 2£ in Wampum, 8 pairs of stockings,
8 pairs of shoes, 1 iron pot, and 10 shillings.
To find you, I have crossed clear skies
and oceans of clouds, rising and falling
in massive white waves. Years, decades,
nearly a century stretched between us
like a rickety bridge, threatening to collapse
before I could reach you.
It’s been eighty years since you waved at the train
taking my twelve-year-old mother
and her twin sister to California
with their mother’s parents. When you said
good-bye on the platform, did you know
they’d soon have new names?
The first time I saw your name,
Ebenezer Ellis Bumpus, I laughed out loud,
thinking of Ebenezer Scrooge, Ichabod Crane,
and country bumpkins. How could I have known
of Nathan Cobb Bumpus, Rowland Sturtevant Bumpus,
and your pride in your old New England name?
Grandfather, I have come to Acushnet
on a bright September day
and knelt at the grave where you lie
beside Emma Hazard Bumpus
and the three children who didn’t live
to see their second birthdays.
My mother never told me the color
of your hair and eyes. She told no one your name.
I think she must have loved you,
but it was an unbearable weight,
and now that weight has passed to me
like a suitcase too heavy to carry.
Ebenezer Ellis Bumpus, what did you look like?
What did you do at the shoe factory?
Did you like poetry? I have stood
on the wooded street where you lived,
and now I’ll search until I find you
in forests that thrive past my dreams.
Wild Goose Poetry Review, Spring 2006