family has one
rattling around the ancestral closet-
some stinking skeleton whose crimes
have so indelibly stained the pages of the family history
that the stench wafts on generation after generation.
The shame of the slave owner
shows up in the way his progeny look at their feet
at the NAACP fundraiser.
The grandchildren of Nazis
walk faster when they pass a synagogue.
The Kennedy's know what I mean.
I too, have lived this nightmare.
I know all about hiding and cover-ups.
I have now resolved to end my running-
the hiding that began twenty years ago
when PBS ran a special on my infamous relative
and I immediately moved to Alaska,
assuming-correctly, that so few people here watched PBS-
that I would be safe.
The one thing that relatives of infamous ancestors know
is that nothing can erase the stain.
Some forms of human activity are simply so evil
that generations of offspring should bear the burden.
And like Cain,
my very name
is saturated with shame.
I envy the great, great nephews of Pol Pot,
Hitler, Stalin, Attilla the Hun, Count Dracula,
the various Popes, Sjlobadan Milosavich, Lyndon Johnson
and all the other lightweight poseurs
that populate the Guiness Book of Crimes Against Humanity.
The horror their families feel
has some limit.
The cancerous force unleashed into the world
by my family stupefies.
It was my great, great Uncle Philo T. Farnsworth who invented the
Yes, I have been living a monstrous lie.
But, before you condemn me,
put yourself in my position.
Ask yourself honestly - what would you have done
if it was your relative who brought the world-"Chips"?
If you could be blamed
for reducing our Western literary heritage
to the pale pulp of "Masterpiece Theatre",
how would you bear it?
If the endless series of lies and absurdities
we call the Nightly News could be lain at your door-
wouldn't you want to lock it?
If all the mind-numbing, brain-clotting, heart-hardening,
that's poisoned the planet day after day
for the past fifty years was your family's fault;
If you bore the guilt
for an invention that in three short generations
transformed ordinary human greed
into the turbo-charged stuff-lust
that now drives our every thought-our every act;
If the obliteration of humanity's spiritual core
could be traced through the bloodline
straight back to you,
where would you find solace?
Great, great Uncle Philo started it all.
It's an irony worthy of the last dumb century
that his big "ah-ha" about inventing television
came to him while he was trudging behind a plow
carving furroughs into the crusty Utah clay
and made him think of electronic rows of video signals.
This knowledge-that even a peasant
could be carrying Pandora's key
has brought me a life of utter paralysis:
Don't move, don't look, don't think, don't act.
Definitely don't plow.
No penance could possibly undo this deed.
I know that.
I'd gladly make one of those gruesome pilgrimages
where you wear rags and crawl across stony plains on hands and knees
or...(MAYBE) even join a twelve-step program
if I thought it would help.
But it's too late.
Imagine with me for a momentÍ
that first episode of Gilligan's Island
moving uninterruptedly through the cold vacuum of space.
It's already way past the sun,
half way to Alpha Centari.