Thursday, May 29, 2014


My brother braces the worn cardboard box against the bed lest the photographs spill from its bowed, damp sides. We didn’t know my mother stored hundreds of photos up there in the dark awkward attic. Setting about my task of sorting treasuring saving all these people and places I am stopped by Aunt Shirley.

My Aunt Shirley, who had moved off Staten Island,
who had a good job, worked in a Manhattan bank,
 who had her own apartment off Washington Square,
who was the most devout Catholic of the bunch of them,
who was in love with her best friend's fiancé,
slept with him, became pregnant and in June of 1952
slit her throat with Grandpop's razor in the white tile bathroom 
of my grandparents' big house on Castleton Avenue.
A man, a neighbor, broke open the door, and so Nana found her. 
Blood, screams and whispers, then a priest who refused 
to say Mass at her funeral or bury her in a consecrated grave. 
Maybe my mother wanted to die too, but she was a wife 
who had children to raise, and a house in New Jersey to keep.

My mother never talked about her sister, but Dad told us. 
I have the photos, can see how close, how alike they'd been back then—
small girls, school girls, teenage brunettes with trim figures, unguarded eyes.
Now that Mom has died, I meet Aunt Shirley. 

a version of this poem was first published at Sheldon Lee Compton's Revolution John magazine