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January 2013, vol 8, no 4

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Steven Carter

Honey of Generation

Turning the pages of this month’s New York Review of Books I happened on a crinkled photo of the Mormon leader Brigham Young. What struck me was the close resemblance to Steve Young, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback – Brigham’s grandson many generations removed.

I don’t look a lot like my father, but I know looks can skip generations, and I’m particularly intrigued with my paternal great-grandfather, who hailed from Kentucky and participated in the mid- to late 19th-century family feuds. How much of this guy’s DNA is printed on a palimpsest named Steven Carter, born nearly half a century after he (I don’t know his name) was murdered?

Kentucky long rifles were a thing of the past, and they’d acquired the brand-new and deadlier Winchester 73s. His first victim was a McPherson cousin who grew up across the river; his second, a McPherson uncle; his third, a step-father who’d killed his, Carter’s, nephew a year after the War. There would be two more.

This p.m. in the year of Mother Nature 2012, still digesting my Thanksgiving dinner, from our hill I look out southward at the desert. Not at all barren, the Rincon Valley features thousands of bright green mesquite trees. The view reminds me of our turkey day broccoli casserole . . .

He lined her up in his sights. She was quite pretty, washing her hair at the riverbank and then, as he adjusted the Winchester, sank to her knees and bowed her head so the bright blonde tresses fell forward to dry in the sun. There was no way he’d ever shoot a woman, not to mention a beautiful woman, and he removed his finger from the trigger.

Does my free-floating anger come from him; from the early deaths of my parents; from somewhere else? Maybe none of the above: maybe it’s simply there, like the Rincon Valley mesquites, some of which germinated around the time of my birth . . .

Fleeing across the Indiana line, standing up to urinate in a creek, the rifle leaning against a tree, he heard the hammers of a shotgun click a few yards away and that was the last thing he ever heard.

I turn from the desert view, go to my closet and take down a family photo album with its yellowing pictures. Some are almost unrecognizable: like the face of a Kentuckian named Carter whose last view was of groves of bright green trees—no, no, not mesquites; white oaks—

(I sit down at the computer and resume flipping the pages of the Agatha Christie mystery that is my DNA. What does the poet say? O dark dark dark, they all go into the dark—)

cold colors
strange nostalgia
for hills I’ve never seen