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Family Reunion Near Grape Creek Church, Four Miles West of Murphy, N.C., 1880


ISSUE:  Summer 1987

Everybody moved. Only that background shed
is focused, its roof a black hat for the ladies
clustered toward the rear of this sober choir
behind the bearded blurs in Confederate dress,
the infants and the witch-like matriarch.

And nobody smiled, unwilling to suffer
minutes of breathless muscle before a camera
omniscient as the Lord or a ready predator,
forgetting that the involuntary subtle pulse
of simply being human and alive would erase

this effort at a record, sure as the weather
would wash its hands on their soapstone graves
until no text was left, sure as bitter years
would blight their genealogy with stillbirths,
death in the service, “bean lodged in throat.”

Even the trees above moved. This might as well
be any family, Adam’s fallen clan, regathered
outside Paradise for their farewell picnic.
What curse or promise do they bear, these men
with radiant chests and women brightly buttoned,

that tall unbiblical couple near the border,
her birdlike hands poised in some missing sign,
his right hand not sheathed over the starchy heart
but pressed to his temple, sharp index finger
cocked in some elaborate parody of suicide?

Vague old ghosts, “four miles west of Murphy”
might as well be four miles east of Manteo:
the dumbfounded verge of nowhere, a landscape
lost to heaven’s shutter since the deluge
or buried for decades now under dammed water.

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