Alexandria (RIP Ronald Baggs, 1941-2014)

You never knew what talent you had
Until one year for my birthday
I asked for the greatest gift you could give
The story of your life

I wanted to know who you were
Before I first met you
A grey-bearded wrinkly man
At the age of thirty-nine

I was your last child 
Unplanned but not unwanted:
When the pregnancy was difficult 
And the doctors counseled yit to abort,
You and my mother
Unanimously decided to keep me 
Whatever the risk 
“You were the best mistake I ever made”
You always quipped

And I wanted to know who you were 
I wanted to know who you both were
You were thirty-nine and thirty-four
When I met yit, after all
And I was thrilled beyond imagining
When the chapters started to 
Pour in through the mail

You never knew you could write
But you wrote so well
With clarity, intelligence, humor, and depth
Not a word too much
Not a word too little
Little need for an editor there

You wove your life story seamlessly 
With current events of the day — 
What we now call history
(You were born in 1941 after all)
You included illustrations 
Ranging from silly cartoons
Of childhood mishaps
To aerial views of places you lived 
All tied together 
With the perfect writing style for the job

I loved reading your memoirs 
Alongside my mother’s
Because each made your personalities 
Shine through in your writing style and 
Choice of subject matter 

But you didn’t think you were a writer
Until you sat down and wrote
Mom said you always had it in you
But you were nearly seventy
Before you let it out

(When you were diagnosed with terminal cancer
Metastatized everywhere
No hope of cure
Months if you’re lucky
Days if you’re not
You told my brother 
“If there’s something you want to do
Do it
Don’t wait
None of us knows
How much time we have left.”)

But you were a writer
And you finished your memoirs
And started writing a novel
Based on our family history
During the Okie migration
When you became too weak to type
You dictated to Mom

She told me how thrilled you were 
That I was writing a novel too
I will finish this novel
No matter how long it takes
Because it meant that much to you
Even on your deathbed

You became a writer in your old age 
But you also became a storyteller 
Among the oldest still alive
On your family’s side
To remember
Not just your life
But the lives passed down to you
In stories
From the elders who came before

And now all that is gone
Your only older relative
Your aunt Voicy
Has severe dementia
Everyone else is dead
All that knowledge is lost

I shall seek that knowledge 
The only way left to me
By lowering myself underground 
Where the roots of our family 
Grow deeper and deeper
And the soil is rich with love

I won’t learn any stories 
I haven’t already heard 
Those died with you
Such a wealth of information died with you

I don’t think you fully realized
How much was hidden
In the caverns of your mind
Much like mine
Like dragons we hoarded rich sensory details
In caves hard to get in or out of
But when found
They shone like jewels

But even if I learn no more stories
From our underground root system 
I will be saturated 
In the essence
Of what it is
To be who we are
And the smell of rich soil
Will be its own reward

Understand that to me
Your death was not only
The loss of a loved one
It was also the burning 
Of the library at Alexandria 
And so is the death
Of anyone old
But especially 
An old relative
What is lost can’t be retrieved 

I only wish you were still here
To fill in the blanks
Between the stories
And to share our dragon hoards
And to smell the soil 
On each other’s skin
And know through smell
As through no other sense
That we are a part of each other

[Yit means “you two”. For some reason my brain decides to use archaic pronouns from time to time like yit/you two, wit/we two. Usually I just let it.]

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