Etheridge Knight

(1931 - 1991 / Mississippi)

The Idea Of Ancestry - Poem by Etheridge Knight

Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.I know
their dark eyes, they know mine.I know their style,
they know mine.I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins.I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say).He's discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space.My father's mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him.There is no
place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown."


Comments about The Idea Of Ancestry by Etheridge Knight

  • (1/13/2017 7:27:00 PM)


    ...thanks to poets.org, I found the second half of the poem

    -Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown
    hills and red gullies of mississippi send out their electric
    messages, galvanizing my genes. Last yr/like a salmon quitting
    the cold ocean-leaping and bucking up his birth stream/I
    hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a
    monkey on my back. And I almost kicked it with the kinfolks.
    I walked barefooted in my grandmother’s backyard/I smelled the
    old
    land and the woods/I sipped cornwhiskey from fruit jars with the
    men/
    I flirted with the women/I had a ball till the caps ran out
    and my habit came down. That night I looked at my grandmother
    and split/my guts were screaming for junk/but I was almost
    contented/I had almost caught up with me.
    (The next day in Memphis I cracked a croaker’s crib for a fix.)

    This yr there is a gray stone wall damming my stream, and when
    the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell or flop on my bunk
    and stare at 47 black faces across the space. I am all of them,
    they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children
    to float in the space between.-
    (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (1/13/2017 7:22:00 PM)


    ....indeed excellent poetry of family ties ★
    'I am all of them, they are all of me'
    a wonderful line
    which takes us deep into the ancestry tree
    (Report) Reply

  • Dutendra Chamling (11/15/2015 3:27:00 AM)


    ...I know
    their dark eyes, they know mine.I know their style,
    they know mine.I am all of them, they are all of me;
    they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee...

    Beautiful.
    (Report) Reply

  • Verter Mcdougald (8/25/2015 9:21:00 PM)


    I can really feel this poem deep in my soul. I understand it on so many levels. I love it. Absolutely great work. (Report) Reply

  • Edward Kofi Louis (8/25/2015 4:47:00 AM)


    Nice work with the muse of your family tree. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (8/25/2015 2:28:00 AM)


    Another poem on ghost of elders depicted with awesome effect in this poem! (Report) Reply

  • (8/25/2015 1:03:00 AM)


    Etheridge, I enjoyed reading your poem. The 47 faces on the wall, your 7 year old niece, and your 93 year old grandmother. I must say that these are your treasures, to be held close to your heart. Never let them fade, grow apart, or forget you. They are God's gifts to you. (Report) Reply

    Kim Barney Kim Barney (8/25/2015 11:34:00 AM)

    Curtis, you are talking to someone who died in 1991!

  • Kim Barney (8/25/2015 1:00:00 AM)


    M Hinton says the poem is actually twice as long as appears here. Why does PH do that to us? This was a fascinating poem until it stopped abruptly. I could certainly have read more of it. (Report) Reply

  • (1/24/2005 9:13:00 PM)


    FYI: This poem is actually twice as long as appears here. (Report) Reply

Read all 10 comments »



Read this poem in other languages

This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.

I would like to translate this poem »

word flags

What do you think this poem is about?

Read poems about / on: family, mother, father, birth, dark, death, sister, brother, smile



Poem Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003



[Report Error]