Issue 15 | Summer 2014

The Relative Heart

My great-great-grandfather Enos Thompson, assassinated
a high-ranking member of the Know Nothing Party,
then retreated to California. My family said his stories
of giant redwoods, painted deserts,
and mountains so high trees wouldn’t grow
made politics seem unimportant.

Grandpa Weed was a certified chicken thief,
spent 30 days (along with Uncle Morris)
in the Crawford County Jail to make it official.
All my uncles said that farmer misunderstood the deal,
and besides The Depression was hard times.

Cousin Bob was found in a field naked from the waist down
in a compromising position with a chestnut mare.
My relatives were grateful it wasn’t a stallion or worse—
a gelding—so it wasn’t a completely unnatural act.

My second cousin, Bruce, on my mother’s side,
shot his daddy (who beat him regularly) and then his mom
(after she complained) with a .22,
because they wouldn’t let him wear blue jeans.
The family maintains he solved all his problems
and some of theirs now that he’s required to wear denim.

My third cousin once removed took her husband’s life insurance
and finally got to travel. Cousin Lola
was the first white woman to spend the winter
in Point Barrow, Alaska, and the last to leave a Greyhound bus
where she had quietly died at the age of 89.

Uncle Otis drank himself to death, served
as an example to my father who never touched a drop.
My brother, Joel, one fresh June morning on a dare
chug-a-lugged a fifth of vodka, lay down
and died in the bed of his pick-up truck. My mother
still remarks how heart trouble runs all through this family.


Nola Garrett is Faculty Emertia of Edinboro University of PA and now lives in Downtown Pittsburgh. Her poems, Macedonian poetry translations, and essays have appeared in Arts & Letters, Christian Century, Christianity and Literature, FIELD, Georgia Review, Poet Lore, Tampa Review, which have been reprinted in several anthologies.  She has received a Residency at Yaddo and Scholarships from the West Chester Poetry Conference and the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.  Her first book, The Dynamite Maker’s Mistress, a collection of 27 variations on the sestina form, was published by David Robert Books (2009). Recently, The Pastor’s Wife Considers Pinball was published by Mayapple Press.


Filed under: Poetry