Home > Poetry > Narcissist’s Daughter
Published: Wed Jul 1 2009
Wosene Worke Kosrof, The Inventor V (detail), 2022, acrylic on linen. Courtesy of Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, California
Narcissist’s Daughter

After his death, I didn’t know that the chair
he’d needed a cane to cantilever himself out of
would darken under my elms,
as if still shadowed by his date palm and cholla;
that butterflies painted on his Chinese plate
were dragonflies I’d never seen
for what they really were;
that the Stickley table he’d thought might
someday have significant value
was just old furniture to the appraiser
who in kindness misled him;
that his mother’s gas lamp
which I was told to never touch
would cast a glow she must have mended by at night;
that I’d inherit gravy boats, baby spoons,
an ornate frame, its cornices filled
with dust from Bratnell Place
where Grandma’s gas lamp helped her midwife
clean my father of his caul;

That the realtor I hired to sell his house
had seen him eating alone
at Denny’s and played golf with him
once or twice just to be kind;
that his retirement party had been filled
with my mother’s friends
and that, after her stroke, he’d badgered them
until they fell away;
that his mother had not only given birth
in her lamp’s light, but had written stories
that he’d discarded in a fit of pique,
although he had saved the remains
of several gifts she’d given him:
a slide rule, cuff link, prayer shawl
missing its fringe;
and that, on top of these, he’d left a letter to me
that didn’t say, I love you,
but rather: _the key to the safe deposit  _
_is in my right desk drawer
_ and, for God’s sake, be careful with the lamp.

Wendy J. Herbert’s poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in Ascent, Crazyhorse, Southern Poetry Review, AGNI Online, Connecticut Review, and elsewhere. A winner of the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, she has also been a semifinalist for the “Discovery”/The Nation award. She lives in Claremont, California. (updated 6/2009)

Back to top