“On the Way to Conception” and “Different Folks”

Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

On the Way to Conception

My parents loved each other but it’s unlikely no one was harmed

on the long, broad path to my conception, and as for fidelity,

my mitochondrial DNA is British all the way to the damsel 

du chambre of Queen Philippa, born in Tonbridge Castle,

mother unknown, fathered by Edward's ambidextrous favorite.

Some of my auxiliary genes marched with Strongbow,

in their sturdy separate packaging, then, centuries

hence, met again, more intimate, in colonial America,

then the Midwest, Irish mingling with Czechs and Swedes.

Lest that sound like incest jest, let’s confess:

we are all related in multiple ways, not just to each other

but the whole animal kingdom, to plants, to the expanding stars.

And it’s reductive to think fate and identity

is all DNA; some genes we turn

on and off with our behavior / actions / habits

and more than nature is nurture, still transmissible,

as even when not discussed aloud, we get a sense

of what happened before, inside the family walls

from what is unsaid; broken chains remember

each other in the dark, like healed vasectomies.

And there are so many kinds of cultural pedigrees,

histories, taxonomies, traditions, besides the family

tree: the org chart, the resume, the chain of mentoring,

and studies that build on studies and beget new studies,

books that talk to books of yore, and poems past.

Some, like tiny lost civilizations, fall out of fashion's favor,

disappear, to be dragged back later by archaeological inclination,

so it doesn’t matter that I never had children

(or if your children or theirs don't have children),

because we all leave our willful, indelible traces: kaleidoscopes

continually fluctuating; indestructible fractals of the universe.

Different Folks

When bullying first became a thing

talked about, a high school classmate

said to me well, we don't have to worry about you killing

yourself: you're too chicken.

She was not not right:

I used to run away from home

as far as the tree in the front of our yard,

although to be fair, our house

was set far from the street.

They say a third of us hang back from danger

like wary canaries who sense, yet don't succumb,

taking protective measures, free-riders, social

loafers; letting the rest rush in, dauntless,

not doing our fair share, and true:

I'd be a terrible firefighter or soldier,

and if I'd been Assigned Male at Birth,

there'd have been worse hell to pay.

But I did get away, first to college

and then the city; like they say now,

it all got a lot better.

That bully became a lawyer, and then a starlet’s

momager who loudly supports humanitarian causes.

Since then, a thousand times, I’ve encountered her clones,

though: no one knows exactly what makes anyone else the way

they are, myself reminds myself, the teacher who writes sad poems.

About the Author

Julie Benesh

Julie Benesh is author of the chapbook ABOUT TIME published by Cathexis Northwest Press. Her poetry collection INITIAL CONDITIONS is forthcoming in March 2024 from Saddle Road Press. She has been published in Tin House, Another Chicago Magazine, Florida Review, and many other places. She earned an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and received an Illinois Arts Council Grant. She teaches writing craft workshops at the Newberry Library and has day jobs as a professor, department chair, and management consultant. She holds a PhD in human and organizational systems. Read more at juliebenesh.com.