My parents kissing in a kitchen.
In her loop-eyed dress my mother—
enormous in her belly, I loom.
In a commune in Fort Greene
she typed and typed her dissertation.
Upstairs a woman practiced primal screams,
a wild-haired painter mourned his dying wife.
My parents had already made my life
near the mass grave
of hundreds of Revolutionary soldiers,
a cockeyed brownstone full of junkies,
somebody who stripped my parentsí jalopy
down to wires and bones.
Soon they sold all they had
and drove to Madison to have me.
Had five people over for pie.
It was done then: They were married.
Weeks later in their bedroom I was born.
In piles my motherís writing
watched us from unquiet bricks and boards.
About this poem:
"In my book The Forage House, I blend seemingly official histories with the blurry but persistent images that become family lore, that shape personal legends. This poem is one of my founding stories: in 1977, before I was born, my parents lived in a the former kitchen of an un-renovated commune in Fort Greene, in a house that was crumbling then and is now worth 2 million dollars, or something equally enormous. I was on the way, New York was rather grim, Brooklyn was grimmer, and neither of my parents could find steady work. In my mind there are all these wild-haired characters moving around making barley casserole and howling. The painter, by the way, was Jonathan Lethem's dad, and the commune held Jonathan Lethem and his sister and brothers in a wild seventies heyday. My parents left. I actually went on, much later, to have a more traditional childhood, married parents, sun-glazed suburb, church on Sundays, a dog. But there's this persistent image of this alternate genealogy of our wildness, of our possible other lives. I love the photos of my parents in the moments just before they knew me, and the alternate image of myself as a young Brooklynite. Years later, when I graduated college, I moved back to Brooklyn; I actually lived about six blocks from this house. Jonathan Lethem and I joke that I was his in utero roommate. That's kind of cool."