Inheritance

by Elizabeth Burton

My grandmother gave me
Her Southern duplicity:
If you hide arsenic
In enough sweet tea,
No one can taste it.

My father gave me
A taste for bourbon
And the sea, a pirate
Marooned in a landlocked
State and a century
Without privateers.
His ashes are in the sea
Now, and for the first
Time I have the feeling
That he is at peace.

My brother gave me
Fear and a closet
Deep enough to hide
All my secrets in.
In his he has comic
Books, toys from when
He was a child, things
He can’t enjoy now
That he’s a man.
In mine hides
My girlfriend.
Our closets are not
Altogether different.

My grandfather gave me
His mania and an ear
For the banjo. He lost
A finger because he refused
To stop making,
Even when the Parkinson’s
Plucked at his muscles
Like he plucked at banjos
And mandolins and anything
Else with strings.
I can’t sleep at night
For hearing the music
Of my ancestors
And the busyness of my hands.

My mother gave me
Her accent, crisp
And flat as a Michigan
Winter. When I laugh
And call her “Yank,”
For calling Louisville
“Loo-ee-vil,” she reminds
Me that we sound
The same.

My countless, unnamed
Ancestresses gave me
Defiance and a fear
Of enclosed spaces, girls
Who married too young,
Who never left their
Hometowns, who tasted
Honeysuckle on their daddies’
Fences and wore their skirts
Too short. If I prayed
I would pray for the ghosts
Of them that roost
In the trees of my family’s farm.

I gave myself
A pen and paper
And the unofficial duty
Of scribe.
I will not forget
Those who came before me,
And I will not be forgotten
By those who come after.
I will not be nameless.
I will remember.

Elizabeth Burton is a student of English and Philosophy at Lexington, Kentucky’s Transylvania University, where she is co-prose editor of their literary magazine, the Transylvanian. A Kentucky native, Burton is fascinated by the Southern Gothic aesthetic and a fan of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. She has had work published in the Yeah Write! Writer’s Review, the Albion Review and the Transylvanian. When not writing, she likes to drink sweet tea, knit and try to find time to do her homework. Read her poem Musings of a Postmodern Hill Witch here

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