Mother's Maiden Name

It's a question of baggage:
toes grab the timeline,
arms out for balance.
Forward, westward we go!
What part of our ancestors do we leave behind?

An elder of this land once said,
How is it you believe in time, but not ghosts?
We're impatient as walking trees,
packing and unpacking our roots,
until reinventing ourselves becomes cliché.

Can I ever know all it means?
This name that scrounged ship passage,
scrimped for the train ticket
just to arrive at me?

A bending course?
A binding curse,
a bitten cork,
a beaten corpse,
a battered cross?

It bears the dreams of the woman who bore me,
of the girl who crossed Old World and New to marry it,
of the only man who survived a war to wear it.
A history of the whole world,
reduced to a security question.

—Cathy Douglas, Madison, WI