The Crooked Inheritance

“Marge Piercy’s appetite in this new collection of poems is robust, vigorous and hybrid. Like a lightning rod, she brings large energies to ground, looking with her customary directness at exactly what is, yet transforming it by her looking as well. Piercy’s poetry raises hope, and raises also the deep hungers that affirm life’s presence in all its fullness-hunger for mangoes, love, work, light, beeswax, usefulness, plungings of language, openness, mystery, peaches, peace.”
–Jane Hirshfield


“I look to each new installment of Marge Piercy’s poetry. I always appreciate her unique mixture of common sense with uncommon joyful insight. She’s political and sensual, astute and wild, truthful and always a step beyond the last. . . The Crooked Inheritance is her best yet.”
–Joy Harjo


In these powerful, often funny, sometimes lyrical, and down-to-earth poems, Marge Piercy writes of her “crooked inheritance”—physical and personality traits from wildly mismatched parents, and in a larger sense the marvelous half-broken world we inherit. Even her hometown Detroit provides a double legacy—a slum girlhood that breeds in her both wild ambition and, where you would least expect it, a love of nature, which she discovers in the city’s elms, “the thing of beauty on grimy smoke-bleared streets.”


Some of Piercy’s strongest poems have always been political, and here are important new verses raging against the war in Iraq, the abandonment of Katrina’s victims (“People penned to die in our instant / concentration camps, just add water”), and the ongoing attempts to suppress women—their rights, their bodies, their minds, their very being: “The CIA should hire as spies / only women over fifty, because we are the truly invisible.”


Other poems are about her life on Cape Cod, where she finds sanctuary in the long natural rhythms of the year’s cycle—gardening, making pesto, hearing coyotes in the winter “yelping in chorus after a kill,” a place where after weeks of rain and snow, the “sun gives birth to rosebushes,” and “everything revealed is magical, splendid in its ordinary shining.” Here, too, are wonderful love songs, about friends, lovers, a beautiful day, animals, making bread.


Deep connections to Jewish life and ritual reveal themselves in poems about her Lithuanian grandmother, about holidays, about the peace in a time of war that ceremony can bring, “an evening of honey on the tongue . . . a puddle of amber light . . . faces of friends . . . darkness walling off the room from what lies outside.”


These marvelous poems remind us anew of the breadth and strength of Marge Piercy’s poetic vision. A superb collection to read and treasure.


More Praise:


“There are some exquisite love poems here: “Making love new” begins, “married love is remaking,/ rekindling, taking this lump of / light at the center of our beings / and feeding it bright, blinding / again….”Her descriptions of places are spot-on: the Detroit of her childhood (“hard / furtive kisses against the wall / of a hallway smelling of cabbage”) or a cleaned-up City of Light superimposed over one that a half century before was “shown to me by my soon-to-be-hus- / band to prove Paris could be worse / than my Detroit, and it sort of was.” Her ability to evoke seasonal changes and weather may not be the type of thing for which Piercy’s admirers usually turn to her, but to my Gulf Coast mind, slogging through another late summer mornig of what we call “80 by 8:oo.” a poet who describes August as “like lint in the lungs” and writes, “If Jell-O could be hot, it would be this air,” gets an up from both of my thumbs – right and left.”
–The Hudson Review, Vol.LIX, No.4 Winter 2007


“The title of thi:s new collection, The Crooked Inheritance, is a reminder of how much we inherit from these poems: eloquent outrage against war and injustice; vivid evocations of a working-class family; gritty recollections of the city; a passionate appreciation for mature love. Every poem burns with an intelligence that cannot be extinguished; everywhere a delightfully subversive sense of humor unleashes itself May the poems of Marge Piercy be the legacy this generation leaves to the world; these poems represent the best of who we are.”
–Martín Espada


“Marge Piercy, spokesperson for the underdog apd underprivileged, has a unique gift for making political poetry gutsy, even fun, and nature writing palpably sensual.”
–Diana Der-Hovanessian


More poems from The Crooked Inheritance:


The crooked inheritance


A short neck like my mother
long legs like my father
my grandmother’s cataract of hair
and my grandmother’s cataracts
my father’s glaucoma
my mother’s stout heart
my father’s quick temper
my mother’s curiosity
my father’s rationality
my mother’s fulsome breasts
my father’s narrow feet


Yet only my grandmother saw in me
a remembrance of children past
You have a good quick mind like Moishe.
Your grandfather zecher l’vrocho
had a gift for languages too.
Rivka also had weak eyes
and a delicate stomach.
You can run as fast as Feygeleh.
You know that means little bird?


I was a nest of fledglings chirping
hunger and a future of flight
to her, but to my parents,
the misshapen duckling
who failed to make flesh
their dreams of belonging:
a miraculous blond angel
who would do everything
right they had failed.
Instead they got a black
haired poet who ran away.


Swear it


My mother swore ripely, inventively
a flashing storm of American and Yiddish
thundering onto my head and shoulders.
My father swore briefly, like an ax
descending on the nape of a sinner.


But all the relatives on my father’s
side, gosh, they said, goldarnit.
What happened to those purveyors
of soft putty cussing, go to heck,
they would mutter, you son of a gun.


They had limbs instead of legs.
Privates encompassed everything
from bow to stern. They did
number one and number two
and eventually, perhaps, it.


It has always amazed me there are
words too potent to say to those
whose ears are tender as baby
lettuces – often those who label
us into narrow jars with salt and


vinegar, saying, People like them,
meaning me and mine. Never say
the k or n word, just quietly shut
and bolt the door. Just politely
insert your foot in the Other’s face.