HomeSouthern VoiceFolk Taxonomy

Folk Taxonomy

by N. A’Yara Stein

Life. Domain. Kingdom.

The embayment alongside the alluvial plains
Is where I was born and where I grew up.
It’s a trip to see some rare November cotton:
Commissioned to collect, record, and describe,
Identify by name each rigid principal of tribe.
We get out and stand around.
No one there knows me now.
Extinct, I’m just going through the motions.
I tell you a secret even I don’t know
Showing you the succession of great-greats
On tombstones that begin to begin in 1753.

Phylum. Class. Order.

Rank is relative, restrictive to schema.
By summer’s end the boys in these towns
Will molt, farmer’s tan and all, into men.
Without the built-in checks to help
You keep the many names straight,
That rudimentary or basic knowledge
Important to survival, you talk with no one.

Family. Genus. Species.

In the antebellum kitchen we cut onions.
Developed from a common ancestral form,
Monophyletic, some places we never reach.
We eat in silence. You say you love the food.
Everybody does.
We are both crying tears we don’t mean.

Hybrid. Variety. Aberration.

Between me and you, a distinction is to be made;
I’ve crunched all the numbers, culled the statistics.
A tiny mass of Latin rattles in my brain;
Words scribble like wasps on the water’s surface.
Somewhere between this moment and forever,
Somewhere between the two extremes,
There is some kind of common genome
That would perfectly betray our true nature.

N. A’Yara Stein is a Romani-American poet and writer living on a chicory farm and has been nominated twice for the 2010 Pushcart Prize. Born in Memphis, she holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas and has been published in The New Orleans Review, The Birmingham Poetry Review, The Oxford American, California Quarterly, Chiron Review, Crossroads: a Journal of Southern Culture, Great Midwestern Quarterly, and Poetry Motel. She currently lives near Chicago with her sons and is looking for a book publisher. 

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