Where is My Father?

“Where is My father?” is a found poem written from Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiography of My Mother. No words have been added or changed, and a dash indicates where words or sentences have been removed.


 

My father

took me and placed me

in the care of the same woman he paid

to wash his clothes

 

his child,

not only his only child in the world

but the only child he had

 

Who was my father?

Not just who was he to me, his child –

but who was he?

 

When he came – he would ask me how I was –

it was a formality; he would never

touch me or look me

into my eyes

 

He was a tall man;

his hair was red;

his eyes were gray.

 

His clothes were always well ironed,

clean, spotless.

He did not like people

to know him very well; he tried never

to eat food in the presence of strangers,

or in the presence of people who were afraid

of him.

 

At the time I came to live with him, he

had just mastered the mask

that he wore as a face for the remainder of his life:

the skin taut, eyes small and drawn

back as though deep inside

in his head,

so that it wasn’t possible to get

a clue from them.

The lips parted in a smile.

He seemed trustworthy.

 

My father must have loved me –

but he never told me so.

I never heard him say those words

to anyone.

 

Painting by Basquiat. Where is My Father by Danielle James on Two or More.

 

In his mind he believed

he loved me, he was sure

that he loved me;

all his actions were an expression of this.

On his face though, was that mask

 

The same mask

he wore when stealing all that was left

from an unfortunate someone

who had lost so much already –

the same mask

 

He believed he loved me,

but I could tell him how untrue that was.

I could list for him the number of times he had placed me

squarely within the jaws of death;

I could list for him the number of times he had failed

to be a father to me,

his motherless child,

while on his way to becoming a man

of this world.

 

He loved, he loved;

he loved

himself.

 

My father had inherited the ghostly paleness

of his own father, the skin that looks as if it is waiting

for another skin, a real skin,

to come and cover it up –

his eyes were gray, like his own father’s eyes –

his hair was a red and brown

like his father’s also;

only the texture of his hair, thick

and tightly curled, was like his mother’s

 

I was like him.

I was not like my mother

who was dead. I was like him.

He was alive.

 

He did not wear the clothes of a father;

he wore his jailer’s uniform –

his policeman’s clothes.

 

And these clothes,

these policeman’s clothes, came to define him;

it was as if eventually they grew

onto his body,

another skin.

 

His other clothes were real

clothes, his policeman’s clothes had

become his skin.

 

Who was he? I ask myself this

all the time, to this day.

Who was he?

 

I did not know him,

he was my father but I did not

know him.

this person who was

one of the two sources of my own existence

was unknown to me,

not a mystery,

just not known

to me.

 

I did not know what he was thinking,

I did not know him well enough to guess.

 

That I was a burden to him, I know.

That he did not know how to take care of me –

I know

 

I would write letters to my father,

letters that contained simple truths –

Madame LaBatte is so very kind

to me, she saves as a special treat

for me the part of the fish that I love.

 

The part of the fish that I love

is the head, something my father would not have known,

something I had no reason to believe he wished to know.

 

I sent him these letters without fear.

I never received a direct reply.

 

 


 Work Cited

Kincaid, Jamaica. Autobiography of my Mother. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,  
1996. Print. 


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6 thoughts on “Where is My Father?

  1. drewkiercey says:

    Wow…
    Beautiful.

    “He loved, he loved; he loved himself.”that line cut me like knife.

    My father is like this too. To a T actually, it’s kind of scary.
    My father is the type of man who’s here but he’s not here. We never talk, and that’s our normal. I don’t know who he is because he never offered to let me in and now that I’m older I see a lot of those qualities in myself.

    I believe that even though we run from our parents, we end up becoming them one way or another…

    I must find Autobiography of my Mother.

    Thank you 1000x for sharing Danielle.

    –Peace

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Danielle James says:

    Hi Peace,

    Thank you for sharing. I had a similar experience. Isn’t that interesting how similar we can end up to our parents? Whether they’re around or not, their presence – or lack thereof – drastically influences us in ways me might not realize until we reflect back.

    I highly recommend Autobiography of my Mother, especially if you’ve ever read (and enjoyed) Kincaid’s work (not sure if you’re familiar with “Girl,” a short piece by her you can find online). The narrator deals with the loss of her mother, but she also suffers from the relationship with her father, even though physically he’s there.

    If you ever get around to reading it, let me know what you think!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mia says:

    Dear Danielle, this poem is so moving.. I can really feel the intense emotions from the person writing it. I could read it over and over again, it’s so sad and beautiful at the same time. Luckily I did not have the same relationship with my father, he talked a lot to me, made jokes, took me places, also told me stories about his childhood and his years in hiding during WWII. But I was an adolescent and he died young. Looking back now I realize that his stories were a mere simplified version of the truth, a version for the ears of a child whom he didn’t want to overwhelm with horror and suffering. I realize now that I will never really know him.
    But can we ever really know someone ?
    On another note, as a person who is not familiar with writing processes, could you explain to me more specifically what a “found” poem is ? How you go about writing it etc ?
    Thank you and keep writing, I love your stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Danielle James says:

      Hi Mia,
      So nice to hear that you had such a wonderful relationship with your father. I’m sorry to hear that he passed away early but hope that you can cherish the memories you have together.

      A found poem is a poem made by taking phrases (or words) from other sources and reframing them to create new meaning. Changes can be made in spacing or text can be added or deleted. People like to compare it to a collage, where you take an existing source and make it your own.
      Hope that clarifies.

      Thank you!

      Like

  4. Ray says:

    Thank you. I got to vent, cry, and forgive. Words are powerful in the way they move us. These words are a reminder of the relationship that I had with my father. The more proud things I did to make him happy the more I was pushed away. When that didn’t work I did things to discredit the good kid in me. Seeking attention from a belt that screamed “I love you” .

    I wish words wouldve left my mouth the way it is so much easier to write on paper. Maybe that would ve changed our relationship and made things so much better. Our voices are screaming from inside even as children and as we get older our voices are constantly yearning to be heard.

    Thank you for sharing this “found poem” and breaking it down. I learned something new in the form of writing. . I have no doubt in my mind that you will be a great author. Without question. Keep it up Dani!!👌Would be nice to feel the same way asking you for your autograph the way we felt asking Walter Mosley for his.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Danielle James says:

      Thank you for sharing Ray. Writing can indeed express things that are hard to express verbally.

      And thank you for your compliment, fingers crossed that yes, I’ll be reading behind that particular mic one day, and you know you’ll never have to ask for my autograph fam 🙂

      Like

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