Laurel L. Perez

Clan of the Crooked Teeth

I am my own country
My own race of broken trivialities.
A blending of all the things I can only guess at,
that ancestry.com can't put together for me.

Almost all my family is dead
Has been since I was small
There are no records kept in poverty
Lacking prestige means lacking more than funds.

I come from the clan of only children
Because my brother moved out when I was four.
I am the daughter of a single parent
Because Cancer is a menace —
A proud kid who managed to avoid the perils of foster care
Patient who thought at one point that life wasn't worth it if living meant
a scattering of different pains pulling people simultaneously together & apart.

I come from the few that fought back against a legal system that wasn't saving me,
that maybe still isn't equipped to do so.
The proud few who divorced their parents — emancipated from childhood like the severing of the
               heart from sternum.
I'd lost my sense of wonder so long before, that child-like belief that everything was magic.
I won't tell you that it didn't burn.

I am from a family tree that doesn't always look before it leaps from one branch to the next, linking new beginnings to the parts that have rotted and fallen off.

White is the definition of my color, but I am a composite sketch of all the Europeans that made their way over to America. My family has never discriminated against religion or creed, we may be a fucked up bunch, but we sure as hell believe in love.
Even when it's not the big love we crave.

I've pulled away from that so hard and fast
I hate that my family tree is misshapen, missing limbs, missing roots.

I loathe the day I'll have to tell my children that we are a culture of our own. Which sounds lovely, until that 6th grade family tree project when their tree looks like lightning has struck, like the tree itself has been dead inside for so long, that few leaves are left, and the limbs that survive are the strongest.

I come from a culture of poverty
have grown up trying to find ways to fake it.
I've gotten so good at this, no one can even see that ghost of the tree I hang from.

I come from a city of the dead and dying
from streets where we pretend we are not as broken as we are.

My entire life I have been drawn to people who know their culture, where they come from.
As the kid who grew up
White, female, half privileged in color
half struggling
a bright slit between my legs.

Desperate to know my culture
to define that part of me I cannot put on an application under ethnicity.
I have always hated the blandness of only being white.
How terrible is that?

I am becoming my own culture
I am redefining what I pass on
I may not have every name, race, religion,
I may not have any answers for what people I come from.

I am a clan of one
one who walked away from the tribe
to begin my own.

I am a part of the genetic group that is a first generation scholar
I couldn't be more ecstatic
if this means erasing my tree I can deal
if this means I am planting new seeds to grow something stronger
then that erasure of the past stings a little less.

They say no one chooses erasure,
in choosing differently from the tribe, by walking the path of the black sheep
the ties no longer bind
the tree that is sinking deeper into the earth each year
has already cast my pollen off.

I am a clan of one
I am from a new tribe I define.

I may be white, female
I may not know the people I come from
but I sure as fuck am running in the right direction.

Laurel L. Perez is an instructor of Composition at Lincoln College in Lincoln, IL. She is also an instructor and working on her creative PhD at Illinois State University. Her concentrations are in poetry, creative nonfiction, and composition and rhetoric. She has published a few poems in Literary Orphans, and Yellow Chair Review, and is currently working on a chapbook currently titled: The Pressure Of: A Meditation on Damage, as well as a new project, on the aesthetics and culture of Punk rock.
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