532: The Vine

532: The Vine

532: The Vine


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

In my mother’s art studio in downtown Sonoma, California, she has a portrait of two people who are ancestors of ours of some sort. She’s not quite clear who they are, but the portrait is stark, black and white. A woman with hair parted in the middle and pulled into a low bun, serious, and a man with laughing eyes. He looks like the troublemaker in the duo. I love staring at this photograph and trying to find my mother’s face in it, my brother’s, my own.

In one photograph on my desk, my mother is holding me and gesturing to the camera. I’m about a year old. It’s a gray day in the vineyards and the picture is black and white. We’re surrounded by those black, gnarled, old-growth vines that look like eagle’s claws. In the photo, I have a face that looks so stubborn, such a deeply furrowed brow, so fully righteous that it almost disturbs me. Where did she come from, that girl who didn’t even know what to be upset about yet?

I wonder what other worlds we carry in us, in our blood. What’s passed down? I can look at that photograph in my mom’s studio and see something that looks like my eyes, maybe. Whether we know our biological parents or not, some traits seem to mark us. There’s even some evidence that trauma might be passed down on our genes.

In today’s poem, we see how a photograph can transport someone into another world. The speaker in this poem notices a trait that runs through her and her family like a vine, how even as a young flower girl tossing petals at a wedding, there was already a heavy sense of what has been and what is coming.

The Vine
by Laura Kasischke

This is a portrait of the tyrant as a child, smiling
shyly. It’s 
twilight in the vineyard, and the red night
rises from a troubled woman’s 
glass of wine.

It’s that
tangled vine.
Always, something that whispered and flickered inside of him.
We could hear it, but we tried
not to listen.

I was a child, too, then.
A girl. The flower girl. I carried
a basketful of petals—fingertips peeled from roses—and some
slippery pink ribbons

down an aisle. I was dressed
like a child
bride, or a childish lie, while the real bride waited at the altar—
smiling, honestly, while

someone raised a camera to capture us both in a moment, in 
which we continue to exist
as we were then.

She’s in love.
I move slowly.
The features
of her face have been erased
by sudden brightness—although
she seems also to be the source of the summer lightning, not
its reflection, while
the same flashbulb catches a glimpse of the blood
behind my eye. I’m
demon-eyed, but I’m 
also filled with acceptance.

My expression.

In it you can see a frozen horse, and
a frozen field, my 
country’s wars, and
my own child’s future in my
own tyrant’s eyes.

"The Vine" by Laura Kasischke from LIGHTNING FALLS IN LOVE, copyright © 2021 Laura Kasischke. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.