Published on January 27th, 2023 | by Carla Rachel Sameth


The Family Stories

This is not tragedy. You know what tragedy is, I’ve written
about a neck wrapped by hands, what should be called choking,
nose splintered into little pieces, what should be called police brutality.

Blood seeping down leg, more times than you want to know,
what you might call my lost children. Yes, I would have been that old lady.
So many children, I miss them all.

When I tell you I’m having a hard time, I might talk about the helicopters
over our house each night as if we are in a war zone,
but I’ll assure you we are not. Though each step
home for my Black son could be a battle to secure safe passage.

Don’t listen if I tell you I’m unhappy, I was crying.
Not the wails you’d hear with the big stuff,
the meat of memoir, this would be whimpers.

You must wait until I’m quiet, maybe the truth
will emerge. I asked that one time, was it just too much?
In my own mind, finally undone that time
I lay by the side of the bed, grasping floor.

My son had become a lost boy.
The drugs, the father he longed for in his life, me, the mother
he tired of. The world, he refused to grapple with anymore.

In my own mind, I’m incapable.
See the woman with the strong arms swinging an ax. See the woman
who fights off skinheads headed towards her sisters. See the sister

who jumps in front of her older sister when their explosive dad
comes headed for her. See how generational imprints
paint rage over pain on his body.

There are too many versions of the family stories.
We all claimed the same black eye
from being chased into the kidney-shaped coffee table,

the mosaic my mom made to keep
from running away and leaving it all—
the four kids, the husband, the stuck place.

All my life I’ve been praised for tenacity, but believe me when I tell you,
I wish I’d given up climbing the mountain sometimes.

Only once I raised the white flag, told my wife,

I just can’t walk another step, gasping for air,
red-faced and damp. She pulled out dry shirts, odd snacks and warm pants,
and took me up to the top, one kiss after another, listening.

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About the Author

Carla Rachel Sameth is the Co-Poet Laureate for Altadena, CA 2022-2024.  Her chapbook, What Is Left was published December 2021 with dancing girl press. Carla’s debut memoir, One Day on the Gold Line, originally published in 2019was reissued by Golden Foothills Press in 2022.  Her full-length poetry collection will be published by Nymeria Press November 2023. Her writing on blended/unblended, queer, multiracial and single parent families appears in a variety of publications. Carla’s work has been selected three times as Notable Essays of the Year in Best American Essays. Her story “Graduation Day at Addiction High,” which originally appeared in Narratively, was also selected for Longread’s “Five Stories on Addiction.” A Pasadena Rose Poet, a West Hollywood Pride Poet, and a former PEN Teaching Artist, Carla teaches creative writing to high school and university students and has taught incarcerated youth. https://carlasameth.com/

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