From an
I was conceived on the night
of my sister's funeral.
As a replacement, I suspect.
But she was very beautiful,
my mother said, and when I was born
I was quite ugly, with a large bump
on my head, so large the attending doctor first
advised surgery. My grandmother
insisted she could do the job
with the flat of a kitchen knife:
using almost constant pressure.
And so it turned out. My mother,
when she saw me said, Why did God
take away my beautiful child and give me
this ugly baby instead. And she turned away,
not to touch me
for the first months of my life.
This is family history.
What is unclear is my father's role.
Was the night of my sister's funeral
a suitable time for making love?
Did they both think that?
Or was my father excited by my mother's grief?
Though I honor my mother and father,
I want to ask a few more questions.
When I was very young I heard my mother say
(though she later denied it when I used
the information in a poem) that my father,
blaming her for my sister's death,
did not attend the funeral.
My mother, against his advice,
had taken my sister to visit a sick cousin.
This was 1923. Whooping cough was the killer.
My father has been dead for 16 years,
my mother for two. Among her effects,
I found a large photograph I had never seen before.
In it she is holding my sister, who is
indeed beautiful. My mother is 20 in the picture
and very happy, almost serene,
she whose anxiety is with me still.

--- "From an Autobiography"
National Cold Storage Company
Harvey Shapiro
Go to a review of Shapiro's
The Sights Along the Harbor

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