Family History: An Exam

This exam is to be completed on your own sweet time. Use a pencil, No. 2 or otherwise, or a pen or charcoal stub or your blood. Convenience is king. Paint brushes work too, especially for those with a taste for color. Answer truthfully and answer correctly if you so choose. No peeking, please. 

  1. Your grandma, the last hippie in the Midwest, is dreaming. What does she see?
    a. Her foot permanently planted in the muck of the Niobrara.
    b. Herself, seated by a silent phone.
    c. Her friend who died in an iron lung in 1957.
    d. Her lips and eyelids fluttering like moths because she has trouble sleeping. 
  1. What is the proper way to pronounce “Sardegna”?
    a. I don’t know.
    b. Sar-day-ne-ah.
    c. This question is pointless.
    d. Sar-dey-nay.
  1. Identify, from the following, Caligula’s greatest mistake:
    a. The length of his fingernails.
    b. His unhealthy love of horses.
    c. The children he never took responsibility for.
    d. The lead in his wine.
    e. My grandma always claimed we were descended from Caligula, and I never understood why she seemed proud of this. 
  1. When is the proper time to harvest rhubarb?
    a. When the stems are red.
    b. When the stems are enticingly red.
    c. When the stems are seductively red.
    d. My parents never picked rhubarb with me. 
  1. Where is the family’s secret monster hiding?
    a. He’s still behind you. He reeks of smoke.
    b. He’s the priest my grandma remembers. He’s dead now. She seemed very happy when she found out he died. 
    c. In the Christmas cards.
    d. You aren’t supposed to ask those kinds of questions—someone might get hurt. 
  1. Where is Ossabaw Island? 
    a. In the Gulf of Mexico.
    b. In Georgia.
    c. Where your secret uncle lives.
    d. Geography means nothing here.
  1. True or False: To be happy, you must forget what your family has done. 
    a. True
  1. At the root of every family tree, you will discover:
    a. Another tree, inverted. 
    b. A family of stowaways. 
    c. A murderer fleeing Prague. 
    d. A teenage girl fleeing Italy. 
  1. What is silence?
    a. It’s not freedom, but it’s close. 
    b. It keeps the peace. 
    c. I can’t answer that question. 
    d. It’s what you’re supposed to maintain at Thanksgiving, even when you know you should say something. 
  1.  Draw your family tree below. Which fruit are you?

Lane Chasek

3 Questions for Lane

What was your process for creating this work?

So I had ideas for poems, but ideas for poems aren’t the same as actual poems. Questions but no definitive answers, you could say. So I decided to write a poem composed of questions with multiple answers. Thus the multiple choice test emerged.

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?

I despise multiple-choice tests. As someone who grew up during the 2000s, the standardized testing that became so prevalent because of No Child Left Behind left millions of American youths like myself disillusioned with the concept of testing and, in many cases, the very concept of formal education. To me, the multiple-choice test is the emblem of the federal government failing its youngest citizens in a big way, and I’m still kind of bitter about it. Maybe people who grew up in the 1990s or 2010s or pretty much any decade but the 2000s would have a different perspective, but as someone who was subjected to the administrative circus that was 2000s public education, I learned from an early age that real education rarely if ever takes place inside schools.

What is the significance of this work to you?

When I was in fourth grade my class had a unit about family history. This was, of course, one of those rare occasions when we weren’t being taught how to take tests. I recall being frustrated when, after interviewing my family members, the family tree that emerged was so barren compared to the anecdotes I’d been told. Some of the stories were awful, I’ll admit, but they were colorful. This poem is my absurdist protest against an education system that forbade such color.

Lane Chasek’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Hobart, Narrative Northeast, North Dakota Quarterly, perhappened, South Dakota Review, Taco Bell Quarterly, and various other journals. Lane’s first novel, She Calls Me Cinnamon, is forthcoming from Pski’s Porch. 

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