My Great-great-great-great Grandfather Who Owned My Great-great-great-great-great Grandmother Shares My Birthday and Also Moonlighted as a Silversmith

Poem by Jason McCall


Another night spent lurking
on the eBay page that’s offering a piece

of silver stamped with one of the names
that took all the names that should have been mine.

I want to see this as Tyler Perry buying a Rebel
base or Obama sleeping in a house built by slaves.

I want this poem to end with me standing
in the doorway of the jewelry store he opened

in downtown Montgomery and me making him face
everything else he sold in downtown Montgomery.

I want this to be a poem of redemption,
a poem that shows this brick of silver

as one brick taken back from the master’s house.
And I want this poem to show this one brick

growing into a house that grows into a neighborhood
that grows into a city that grows into a country

that grows into a world I can leave to my nieces and nephews
and know they’ll never have to leave the light on

to scare away the monsters of the world. But
this is a poem about greed because greed is what makes me

want to run my hands over the name of a man who ran
his hands over the woman who had to bear

sons and daughters who bore sons and daughters
until I could carry out this dream

in the middle of another night soaked
with coke and rum and spite. I used to believe

I loved silver more than gold
because something in my skin knows what it means

to be second-best, to be kin to the moon, to pull
at the ocean and hold it close like a lost cousin.

But now, it feels like another arm of ownership,
like memory and the DNA charts

I’ll never pay to see. I can’t trust my wants to be
my wants, so I close the screen again and imagine

my ancestors wouldn’t want me to waste my money
on something they already paid for.


Jason McCall (@jasonmccall4) holds an MFA from the University of Miami. He is an Alabama native, and he currently teaches at the University of North Alabama. His collections include Two-Face God; Dear Hero,; Silver; A Man Ain’t Nothin’; Mother, Less Child; and I Can Explain. He and P.J. Williams are co-editors of It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop.

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