Talking Back to Great-Grandmother

As I write this, I’m tired and grateful. Tired because I have too much work and too little time, and grateful because yesterday I got a flat tire driving home from a doctor’s appointment.

I hate tires. They smell like the oil they’re made of. But I love having a car. So I drove to the gas station, confirmed the damage, and went to Les Schwab. I drove away an hour later with brand new tires and a huge awareness of my own class privilege.

To not only own a car but to fix that car without saving up to do it…wow. Having a car means I can drive from home to work in ten minutes, be at school in a half hour.  Having a car means time and freedom. Yesterday it meant I could drive to Vancouver after getting new tires for a meeting to plan a feminist spirituality conference.

My class privilege means that I can go where I want, when I want, and when something in my life breaks, I can pay someone else to fix it. All of this is great for me and I am deeply grateful.

But while owning a car is great for me, it is bad for the world, and I’m not sure my gratitude balances out the cost to my community in terms of air pollution, fossil fuel consumption, and capitalist lifestyle. I don’t want to believe that the cosmos is a zero-sum game. I want to believe that life is more complicated and the spiritual resources of the Divine are more abundant. But, still, it nags at me. What do my privileges cost others? I was thinking of this when I wrote this poem:

Talking Back to Great-Grandmother

“White women are the only ones to guarantee the purity of the white race. They are the white man’s most important treasure…[this] pedestaled position that white women allow themselves to be placed upon is always at the expense of other women…”*

Reading Audre Lorde I am thinking of Adrienne Rich,
how the black lesbian dies at 58 and the white lesbian lives on.
I add this to my list of privileges: I will live longer
because I am a white woman. Slavery has given me that.

My great-grandmother Lovette would mock me,
show me her shoes, cracked at the seams,
point out holes in her roof, the dresser drawer
which doubles as cradle for the latest child.

If I told her how black women lose
when white women gain,
my great-grandmother would slap my face.
Just who do I think I am
with all my books and schoolin’?

But it doesn’t work anymore to call me ungrateful,
mark me a traitor. I am not only the offspring
of Missouri white trash, I am also the daughter
of German immigrants, namesake of Elizabeth Dzaack,
proprietress, member of the merchant’s guild in Danzig.

Born German on the Nazi side of the Holocaust,
guilt-knowledge made my bones, calcified my marrow.
My ancestors are ashamed of my betrayals, the easy way
I shrug off that mantle of immigrant sacrifice,
exculpation. But I refuse to be innocent.

I march into Great-Grandmother’s house and take the baby
out of the drawer. But she will not stop giving birth.
She will not leave her alcoholic husband, wed to his bottle.
When it rains, the roof leaks in the same ten spots, clatters
into metal pans. Soon the landlord will come with his papers.

Slavery gave you this, I tell Great-Grandmother, but she won’t listen.
She won’t admit she is glad to have someone she is relieved
not to be – another life, besides her own, she does not want.

*Katie Cannon, letter to Carter Heyward, Mud Flower Collective


  1. Your poem makes my bones ache. And I think that is a good thing.

  2. Ulrich Dzaack

    Hello I just read your poem (I tried).
    I stumbled about it because of the name of your great grandmother. As you see my name is also Dzaack and my father left his home near Danzig when he was 17 year old soldier in the 2.nd world war. It seems we have the same ancestors. My aunt told my father that some of his relatives went to america. The name is very rare (its not a german name). I heared that the very ancestors came from holland (as so called hutterers) They had to leave their country in the 15th century and went to Poland (Danzig). Maybe you also know something about them.


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