“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.
took me and placed me
in the care of the same woman he paid
to wash his clothes
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,
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
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
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;
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,
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
this person who was
one of the two sources of my own existence
was unknown to me,
not a mystery,
just not known
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 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.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Autobiography of my Mother. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,