Excerpts

Family Tree by Julia Alvarez

When I was born, my mother wrote me down on the family tree, a second bough

dangling from her branch which was attached

to a great trunk which sunk down into roots

sprung from the seeds of Spain and Africa,

the latter never mentioned but expressed by darker faces in the family clan.

We were on the up and up “good” hair, light skin,

A foreign education for the men,

fine weddings for the guaranteed virgins.

Branch by branch, blossom by blossom, we grew;

our individual trees lost in the woods

of Alvarez and Tavares ancestors.

Until by emigration, seeds were cast

on foreign lands: a maternal great-aunt

married a German and our name was lost

in guttural patronymics, blond cousins

with year-round suntans. My sister and I,

transported stateside in the sixties, turned

into tangle-haired hippies, slinging our English slang

We clipped ourselves off from the family tree,

independent women! Or so we thought,

until our babies started to be born,

sporting Mamita’s dimples, Tío’s brows,

the voice of Tía Mariana, thick and swee

like boiled-down sugarcane; the family tree

transplanted but not totally transformed.

Even I, the childless one, intend to write

New Yorker fiction in the Cheever style,

but all my stories tell where I came from.

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