Bloodlines (original version)

This tale is a history, a fable, a prayer;
of those gone before me, now gathered with care.
Can’t start in the middle—too confusing, not clear,
can’t start at the end—will be over I fear.
So I’ll start from the first as far back as I can
and nudge you along ’til you’ve met the whole clan.
When you are finished you’ll know who we are,
how we all got here, how we came from afar.
We came as stonemasons, shoemakers, and deacons,
joining the New World as seekers and beacons.
Peter left Consdorf and sailed ’cross the sea,
laid roots in Mazeppa, my father’s fine tree.
George hailed from Sussex to start a new life
and settled in Guilford with children and wife.

These pioneer woodsmen were ranchers and farmers,
God-fearing Christians, heathens, and charmers.
Conducting the railways or working the land,
some branded cattle, a few dealt a hand.
They were shopkeepers, landowners, soldiers, and teachers,
they were butchers and icemen, a few wannabe preachers.
They were writers and singers, a political few,
they were German and English, a Frenchwoman too.
Generations before them, their stories are gone,
’til they sailed on the Phoenix, Diligent, and St. John.
Lucky for you, not on each I’ll shed light
for if I dared try we’d be here all night.

I’ve heard which ones fiddled, who sang, and who danced;
I’ve no doubt they worked hard, wonder if they romanced.
I’m told of my grandfathers’ heartache and strife,
know where they built, what they did with their life.
I know what they died of: bad kidneys and rage,
some from weak hearts, some of old age.
Some died from smoking, from whiskey, from sin,
from choler, from cancer—or did themselves in.
I sense all their voices; they touch me in dreams,
I glimpse at their lives to unearth what it means.
Herein are their legends, their letters and lore,
some clippings and pictures that show what they wore.

Regarding the women so little was written,
so little recorded ’bout how they were smitten.
I know what they cooked and what they were taught;
know many were Catholic—which tells me a lot.
They were strong and defiant, ruled by what’s right;
married men that some left but made do with their plight.
These mothers of mothers, and mothers of mine,
are grown from seed you don’t often find.
I can guess at their dreams, their motives, their fears,
by knowing what mine are—my shadows and tears.
I presume who they were by looking at me,
our blossoms and thorns twine in the same tree.

I’ll write of the kin my brother explored,
searching volumes of records—a task I deplored.
Names, facts and figures, they interest me not,
it’s the echoes of tales where I am most caught:
the Hoys sued each other, Grandpa gambled the ranch,
and drowned all his sorrows—a curse through that branch.
Emily hid her first marriage, bandits shot Val and ran,
Nella Mae had four children by not the same man.
Clans traveled in numbers through region and state,
settled Montana, Colorado, California of late.
It was here in the thirties my parents did meet,
then married, had children with ten little feet.


I am the youngest, this teller of tales,
unearthing my family, removing our veils.
I’m related to Clemens, the kin of my dad
(who married a Chatfield—a girl some thought bad).
I’ve written of both, their histories, their lives,
of Mom’s other husband and Daddy’s three wives.
I wrote of my brother, my sisters and me,
recording our versions, our own memories.
But futures are clouded by sins of the past
with history rewritten by those who come last.

So pull up a chair and sit by my side,
come wander with me through this family’s ride.
We’re scattered and distant—all over the place
though still all related by marriage, or grace.
Through bloodlines or love, through bad luck or tether,
Doesn’t matter one whit what binds us together.
Those gone before are a part of us still,
a dram of our blood, a slice of our will.
They watch over us with wonder and trust
and guide us from birth ’til we, too, turn to dust.
I know they’ll excuse me—my gaffes and asides,
it’s those who are living who might have my hide.
Some snort, some are angry, some threaten, some rear;
some nights I don’t sleep from the scorn that I fear.
But it’s none of my business what they think of me—
I wrote what I deemed ‘bout my family tree.

Catherine Frances (Clemens) Sevenau
original version, 2005

Clemens photos

Clemens photos


Chatfield pictures

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  1. Avis (Chatfield) Shinn says

    Catherine, you are amazing! Love your poetic leanings.

  2. Gerry Wisdom says

    Cathy, I have long wondered, did you run across Samuel L. Clemens in your tree? I used to think I was related, but it turns out my Grandmother was a classmate of his FATHER, and named my Dad after him. Gerry

  3. Edna McNeely Bowcutt says

    You are a writer I aspired to be and fell way short. Thank you for all that you write.

    • Thank you Edna. Here’s how I got here: I was in a writing class for five years, took numerous writing workshops, joined writing organizations, edit most everything I write a couple of dozen times, and then, I run most everything through an editor. The classes and workshops helped me find my voice, the editor makes me look good, and the rest is all obsessive-compulisive fine-tuning.

  4. Ron Miller (Madisonburg, PA) says

    Loved your poem, it brought tears to my eyes. I’ve not forgotten that I promised to send you a memorial stone photograph of Hairy John Vonada’s wife Susanna. Snow is too deep and the air too chilly to go get it now.

  5. Jim Chatfield says

    Wow Cathy, you are outstanding. Loved the way you wrote this like a poem. It is so enjoyable. It seems like Chatfields ended up in Connetticut. Mine were in Hartford in the 1790s. Wish I had your way with words. Please never stop writing.

  6. susan Dalberg says

    I loved that!!! Thanks.

  7. Wonderfully captured in rhyme! Iambic pentameter? Anyway, delightful. xoxox