Dominant/recessive: A Zuihitsu
Online genetic testing goes like this: spit in a cup and wait. You will be given a list of diseases you may or may not contribute to future generations, a chart labeling 46 pieces of a fragmented past, a map of where past generations moved, inside and then out, of Africa.
500 years ago, the first woman who carried a mutation, that I, a mutt, now carry, walked in Central Africa. She sang and looked at stars. She liked the feel of rain on her bare skin. Her distant daughters were forced to walk through the valleys of the Congo. The last thing they saw of home was Angola, a land named for its kings.
The Taino people had lost their l(h)ands before the Spanish could name Borinquen Puerto Rico, before Xaymaca could become Jamaica. Even Cristobal Colon–that devil in explorer’s clothing—called them “shapely of body…handsome of face.” They were the gold in the streams and rivers; shards of their language still strewn across our shared tongue—canoa, barbakoa, Juracan—canoe, barbeque, hurricane.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Am I descended of the men who came across the ocean in their ships?
Yes. They conquered with more than steel. That is why more than half of your genes come from a land named for a white cow.
Casta paintings originated in Mexico. They were painted to show the kings of Spain what happened when pure blooded Spaniards had children with pure blooded Indians. And later, with pure blooded Africans. The paintings always featured a male and female parent with a child. They suspected that the European blood was stronger, that it would erase the pigment after a few generations. When they found that African blood did not disappear, they gave the mixes names: mulatto–jackass, lobo–wolf, ‘chino–pig, no te entiendo–I don’t understand you, albarazado–leper, tente en el aire–worthless. Then, they stopped painting.
Somehow, we have survived: a line of un-toca-bles. Double helix of stardust fallen all over whatever land we found after the sea: one if by canoa, two if by Triangular trade, three if by Armada.
Scattered ancestry paints a colorful quilt of chromosome across my computer screen. A heterozygous history, one of many possible outcomes.
I am tired of looking at the pattern history has taken. I stand outside, watch the stars my foremothers watched, and sing.
Amy Alvarez is a poet and teacher. An alumna of the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing, her poem “Alternative Classroom Senryu” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Originally from Queens, New York, she currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts.