Ancestor Embouchure by Sarah Key


How do I stretch my mouth
around all of you? How can my swelling lips

reverse airflow and swallow you whole?
How far back will my throat open?

How I would blow the fife
back to 1776 Rhode Island,

cradle the metal of your musket, William Gardner,
my great-grandma’s great, lieutenant by 21, how many

alarms you answered for 336 pennies
of pension a month. How will I drum

your blood for freedom into my children’s children
Turning to the east, how my cheeks

would puff out the czars
to hold the air for you, Celia Markowitz Kantor,

my great-grandmother the ragpicker fleeing
Tomsk to cockroaches in Williamsburg

how you sewed all night from scraps you found all day
to feed four boys. How your fingers drew me to Brooklyn

where I stitch together words
thanks to your back-breaking picking, I work in verse.

How will my palate form a tunnel
to you, great-great-grandpa Hugh?

How I bought your house on the hill
back to family breath, your grave in the heart

of my land, the heart of your homestead allotment,
one hundred sixty Creek Nation acres the government

trumpeted as yours. How many times did they get
you drunk and take more away?

Ancestors, make me resonate. Ache my grateful lips a-
round the shape of your suffering.

# # #

Since cataloging her book collection in third grade, Sarah Key has been smitten with storytelling. She has had the privilege of word-work and word-play as an art book editor, cookbook author, poet, essayist, and teacher. With eight essays on the Huffington Post, she has also had numerous poems in journals from Poet Lore to Tuesday; An Art Project and inclusion in the poetry anthology My Cruel Invention. The students she tutors at a Bronx community college are her favorite teachers. Read more here:

Photo credit: Terri Malone


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