Of Inheritance

Miriam Bird Greenberg


Its beneficiaries ordinary
in their disgrace, made to break
at lathe or lumber
mill, they like to say. Fruit
bruised before the fall, broken open
beneath the tree, they are liquor
for wasps and ruined
gods, rust-riven and rat-
gnawed. They croon
funereal rights, conceal
what they carry. Of them,
the garment rent by a master’s
machine, the treatise
only a woman, they say,
can name — of softness
no one has invented better confessors
for. Theirs the brass
knuckle, the why won’t you learn,
bitch? Call them salt
not of the earth; they are of cul-
de-sacs named for nothing
still living, of flood-
plain and desert molded
to will, they came of age
where petals shone in moonlight
on the lawn. They will come
wrapped in the flag
of their dead
things, its rot exhumed
from rich loam. They are thorns
in the hoof and thieves
enchanted by childish things, they salt
their children’s field.
The house they have helped build,
they resent. It is larger than them.
They will set it aflame.


Art by Maggie Nowinski.

Miriam Bird Greenberg is the author of IN THE VOLCANO’S MOUTH, which won the 2015 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and ALL NIGHT IN THE NEW COUNTRY. Recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Poetry Foundation, she’s written about the nomads, hitchhikers, and hobos living on America’s margins, and is currently at work on a fieldwork-derived manuscript about economic migrants and asylum seekers of Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, she’s the 2017 writer-in-residence at the National University of Singapore’s University Scholars Programme.

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