On Death, Illness and Roots

Photo courtesy of Danny Clinch

What a strange week it’s been. I came down sick days ago and I feel like I’ve been in an alternate reality. I had many conversations that feel like dreams. I read far too much social media and news and it colored everything sour. I find myself looking around, wondering what still matters.

I think what hit me the most, surprisingly, was the news that John Prine had died. No, I don’t know John Prine personally but he is my 2nd cousin. I’m told I knew him as a baby. My parents had all his records and I grew up listening to his songs. It’s odd remembering that when I was very young I loved country music.

All my life John has been there in stories—my famous relative, the one that made it. My grandmother told me endless tales of how John adored her. By this time in my life I was not only over country music but systematically trying to wipe any hint of redneck/hillbilly/country from who I was becoming. The fact that I was born in Kentucky became an irony I’d always follow up with but I barely lived there.

Last summer I went through Madisonville, Kentucky where I’d lived as a baby. It shocked me how tiny it was. The town consists of one street, some old buildings and a gas/grocery. When I asked about my aunt in the grocery I was given her address based on the fact that I was short and stocky “just like a Grant.” The logic: we looked like family therefore we must be family.

It occurred to me that, in spite of a lifetime of trying to ignore it, that is also part of who I am. Maybe John passing reminded me. I’ve meant to write to him for years as “Little Angie” but never got around to it. I just wanted to say hi to the family legend. Too little, too late.

In keeping with my tradition of writing a poem a week for PoetryNook, I finally wrote that letter. My favorite song of John’s was Dear Abby, and I used it as my guide for this poem. It’s a terrible poem for terrible times. You can read this poem here.

And now, like a complete nut I’ll cry while I listen to a man I never really knew sing one of my favorite songs since I was the child I’ll never admit to. Perhaps I’m not just crying for John, but many things. Like I said, it’s been a long, strange bruising week… for most of us.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher, and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine with author husband Ryan Aussie Smith. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net
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