Strange Horizons, one of my favorite venues, has published a semi-autobiographical ghost poem of mine, “My Heart Is Set on Wandering” as their first poem on their beautiful new website relaunch, and as part of Filipino-American History Month I’ve decided to write about it a little bit.
This poem originally began as a companion piece to an untitled short story in a universe I call “Ethical Necromancy”, but quickly spiraled out from the POV of the fictional necromancer Magdalena and became my own. At its heart, the poem is about the community of St Malo, Louisiana, and the yearning to see and hear what stories that community might tell. It’s also autobiographical in another sense; it is about my grandmother’s family’s choice not to register on the Dawes Rolls and be counted by the US Government among the Cherokee Nation (a decision that has repercussions for my family to this day, including falsification of her obituary to keep her Native ancestry a secret), the discovery of my grandfather’s gravestone and my search to learn about his circuitous journey from Santa Catalina as a boy of 15 through the US West Coast before it was cut short by cancer, probably caused by the pesticides sprayed on the fields where he worked as a laborer picking everything under the sun.
For me, no love song about Louisiana’s dead is complete without the spiritual traditions of New Orleans, where I did, indeed, see the Baron in bright sunshine on a Thursday afternoon in September while sitting in Jackson Square.
This poem shares so much common ground of ancestry, identity, and dead-ness with “The Doppelganger and the Ghost” in Eye To The Telescope Issue 22 that it would be odd not to mention them together (TW: transphobia, dysphoria). Late October/early November might be the Season of Spirits in the Catholic religious calendar but it’s also a time of ancestral memory and remembering; here, the fraught matter of immediate family becomes tangled up with monsters and true identities, and how dysphoria and transition can lead to both deep betrayals and freeing truths. There is not always a simple resolution to the pain of family, and there’s not one here; but perhaps “My Heart Is Set On Wandering” offers the balm that if the immediate dead do not understand us, Ancestors know more than we might think.
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