Our Works and Days

What we lost.

The interior love poem
the deeper levels of the self
landscapes of daily life

from Buried 2 (iv) by Michael Ondaatje

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There is little that survives of my grandparents on both sides, or indeed my father. I did not meet any of them. What I have pieced together is through the distorted reflection of what my mother remembers as seen in others. My nephew has something of the precision of my father, my cousin shares the earnest, naive idealism of my maternal grandfather, I have something of my maternal grandmother’s gift of making.

I walk and laugh like my father, my brother inherited his enormous sense of responsibility.

It is these touches that endure, fragments of other lives that find their reprise in a syncopated, mutated form generations later, only recognised by those who form the bridge and can remember the stories.

The ankle bracelets in the picture belonged to my maternal grandmother. Little else survives from that era. My wife was given these when we married, and as we are preparing wills she needs to decide where they will go next. Fortunately there is another pair of similar weight from my wife’s family, so we will be able to arrange something equitable for our two daughters. To them my grandmother is just a portrait that hangs in my brother’s house.

More difficult to bequeath will be the family treasure. My brother is custodian of the decoupé art of my ancestor Abu Jaffer (and before you begin planning a heist, it’s not actually worth anything). The family legend is that the girl Abu Jaffer loved married someone else, and he spent the rest of his days a bachelor. There is some suggestion that he may have been a skilled poet, but among my ancestors that at least is not a peculiar distinction (if only a couple of poets could instead have been born with the ability to manage estates and make good decisions, but that story is for another day).

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He had no children, he lives on only in these beautiful but fragile bits of paper, and a half remembered romantic tragedy. Or perhaps not, it has been remarked that most of my own stories are romantic tragedies. Perhaps a little of him endures in the family line after all.

END

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