Think of your parents before you.
First children themselves, fourth graders
when Kennedy was shot. Half of you inside
your mother, even then. Months away
from a first confession. Then meeting
by chance in a drive-in parking lot, your future
father mistaking your mother for some other
girl with long black hair. And with one child
of their own, a son. And a miscarriage
and uncertainty if they wanted to try
for you at all. Before people began, a story
opened with the heavens. But once before
that time, almost before time could be,
God spoke of himself in plural. Said men
should rule over what they could never control.
His own snakes denning underground in winter,
a time of water. Snakes in a neighbor’s long lot
near your childhood home. Snakeskin
in the basement of your current one.
The heavens in pieces: stardust at night,
storm clouds by day. Think back further.
To your four grandparents. Each on various farms
in rural Kentucky. Now your great-grandparents,
ancestors—fruitful and multiplying backward
until the numberless funnel back down to two.
And finally, just one.
And nothing. A zero like an egg. Full of unknowns:
part of a son, a daughter, or a tangle of snakes inside
the body of a child.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.