Bryan R. Monte
I Only Had to Look to See
Genealogy taught me to concentrate on the gaps,
to look for those missing or barely mentioned,
to fill out the branches of my family tree.
They were everywhere, at least one a generation:
the son or daughter who never married
and didn’t become a priest or a nun
who left town soon after graduation
and never returned, or who married
and divorced after a child or two,
then moved away to the big city,
no family to tell their story,
aunts, uncles, and cousins at a distance
who could only guess: What is he/she doing there
at the other end of the country?
Two doors down, on my childhood street,
lived an old man and his two unmarried sisters
for 40 years. Two doors up, the oldest daughter
moved to Seattle and sent back
knives with carved, totem-like handles
for her brothers and father
and chevron and animal-patterned fabrics
for her mother and sister.
Four doors up, the oldest son,
one of the neighbourhood bullies,
who held my older sister over an open sewer
and me to the ground while a frightened dog
tore my bare back, also moved out West.
When I was 22 and lived in San Francisco,
his father phoned to invite me to this son’s home.
‘Take BART to the end and I’ll meet you at the station.’
We drove to a two-bed, two-bath ranch
his son shared with a college ‘friend’,
(‘California houses being so expensive’),
when both were away. The ‘friend’s’ room
featured a wall-mounted college diploma
between two deer antlers above his bed, the son’s bath
an ‘It’s An Orgy, Come On In’ cartoon shower curtain
from the Does Your Mother Know? store in the Castro.
My family tree and neighbourhood observations
were akin to Galileo’s first telescopic mapping
of the Jovian moons’ changing positions
East * * O * West
East O * * * West
East * * O West
orbits he used to confirm heliocentrism
resulting in a life-long house arrest.
From this I should have learned the price
of being correct, but incautious,
extrapolating from micro to MACRO
in the ’80s, as I typeset my gay magazine
on the college mainframe and brought
my ‘lover’ to campus readings.
I only had to look to see to predict
what my professors would punitively deny.