Some readers may remember James Najarian, professor of Victorian Lit at Boston College. Not a fusty old-timer, he was actually new when many of us were "new," and even deigned to shoot hoops with the grad students–with whom he looked roughly equal in age.Ten years down the line, I learn that he’s a poet (an award-winning one, at that), thanks to the placement of this piece in the Boston College alumni mag.
This is one of the few poems where the poet has actually granted his permission to re-publish in this forum!
Najarian grew up on a goat farm in Berks County, PA, a mostly rural county also famed for its "family detention center" where ICE locks up single mothers and children as young as one month old, who are fleeing from persecution in other countries. Najarian’s piece, set in the area, speaks of older, easier channels of American immigration–and of natural phenomena well older than that. -ed.
GENEALOGY: NEAR KEMPTON, PA
The year that RFK and King were shot,
your father bought the last two hundred acres
from the youngest daughter of the German family
that tilled these hills for two fat centuries
They’d built a barn, plain red, (though when it rains,
the shadows of proud horses, names, and banners
push through the damp and show themselves), and added
a wooden summer kitchen to the house,
and earlier, the year of Gettysburg,
a set of rooms with foot-thick walls of rock.
Its core was laid by the Moravians
before the Revolutionary War,
they cleared the woods and tilled between the stumps,
put up a church—of which there is no trace,
not even a shallow, naked spot—and dug
a graveyard—now an unplowed bite of field.
The stones were carted off some years ago.
The Brethren whom they named remain in rows,
eroding as we speak, down to the ones
who died in combat with the Indians,
the Lenape, in the struggle for this land—
before those clans were flung beyond the ridges,
to Indiana, Kansas, and at last
to dessicated Oklahoma, dropping
the arrowheads that show like rocky shoots
at plowing, and the tonguing names of waters—
Saucony, Maxatawny, Tulpehocken.
A hundred people speak that language now.
What was this place before that time? The glaciers
palmed each valley, seam, and gully, leaving
the brittle tiers of greasy shale impressed
with the remains of vanished beasts and flowers.
Viewing them by the pond your father cut
is like perusing grimy photographs:
these are your ancestors, the trilobites—
your cousins, the bits of carapace and leaf
from when this farm took up the ocean floor.
But before that, where was this scrap of land?—
The universe could have been no more than
a pebble, cinder, or a grain of clay:
The black dot in your uncreated eye.