“Family’s getting scarce,” Cousin Jeanette says
As Uncle Wallace, her daddy, lies
In hospital bed in Union
Lashed with tubes that keep him fed.

Wallace has outlived all siblings save one,
Uncle Autry, “Aut,” father of two sons
And one daughter; he fascinated us
Younguns with missing thumb.

Before them we’ve lost Uncles Russell, Doug,
And Hub and Aint Bertie. Doug drowned,
A drunkard, only forty, still young.
I remember my cousin scaring men with her tears

When she heard Hub was gone; a
Drunkard too but eaten up by the cancer,
Same as Coley, my granddaddy, whom the cancer took
Leaving behind a bed of bones.

We can near count cancer as kin.
Cousin Kitty, organizer extraordinaire, went with it
Too soon and so did Cousin Bertie Mae,
Bus driver and wrestler of men in her day.

Cousin George, “ugliest man” in the clan,
Loved his smokes right up to the end,
When nursing home machines
Brought his breath out and in.

Now we miss his reunion jibes with Daddy each fall,
Where he’d come spiffed up in coat and tie,
Like a Fuller Brush salesman or old Romeo
With a roving eye.

The Old Timeys is right kindly
To the Iveys as well,
Stealing Haskell from us and Vegie,
Both Lucilles and Crazy Gail.

The good go first, leaving uncertainty behind.
We’ve lost Cousin Charlie and wife Dora,
Bailey, clown prince of the Ivey heart,
Though no Ivey himself; Mae Ola,

Famed for her ‘zalea garden; Archie,
Lover of nicotine and sly jokes; Garris
And the other Haskell, Garris’s brother:
That side’s all gone now, most recently their mother.

The widows have become extinct:
Lena and Vera and Sarah and Rose;
Only Violet, my dear “Ninnie,” remains,
One hundred years old, with tart tongue intact.

They were textile people mainly,
Dusted white by the end of day;
Uniform Baptists, Yellow Dog Democrats,
At least one of whom even voted for LBJ;

Moonshiners, preachers, beggars for votes;
Fools for fast women, coddlers of foolish men,
But even in their midst an occasional saint,
Such as Ola or Ethel or some other cousin or aunt.

We miss them most when we see whom
They’ve left behind as replacements, and when
Word comes by phone another has died,
We cry, “Not him! Not her! It’s the wrong one gone.”

Randall Ivey

Randall Ivey teaches English at the University of South Carolina, Union and is the author of two short story collections and a book for children. His work has appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies in the United States and England.

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