Reading Joan Aleshire

by | Jul 11, 2013 | Reading




all came with gifts to the birth:
one with laughter, one with strength,
one with luck, one with love,
one with grace, one with hope,
one with imagination, one with insight,
one with health, one with keen senses,
one with will, and one—
angry with the others or with
my mother, who didn’t believe
in fairy godmothers, took half
my fingers, twisted both my arms.




The only sign on the Certificate of Birth
of something not quite right: the note
in an angular, stiff—unlike my mother’s
generous, round—script: Please Do Not Visit.

And under Trade, profession or particular kind
of work done, as housekeeper, typist, nurse,
clerk, etc
.—the only work women might do—
comes Housewife, in the same awkward,
unfamiliar hand. Under Industry or business
in which work was done, as own home,
lawyer’s office, silk mill, etc
.—which further
dates the document—the writer’s put Home.
Under Total time (years) spent in this work,
she’s written Life, as if she never was a child.

At the end, in the blank after: I hereby
certify to the birth of this child,
who was
______________, the writer’s marked,
in a firm, round, close-to-my-mother’s
usual script, as if her head has cleared
against the official world, her hand steadied,
Alive, this 18th day of March, 1938.




She wouldn’t have taken that
first photograph of me—a few days old,
swaddled in a blanket so neither hands
nor feet appear, lying separate, alone
on a floor in a triangle of light,
with shadows deep as black curtains
framing it on either side and almost
hiding the nurse-like figure who hovers
in a kind but helpless way nearby.
It’s as if I’m being judged,
about to be left there.




all from Joan Aleshire’s Happily (Tribeca: Four Way Books, 2012)