The Photos

By Diane Wakoski b. 1937 Diane Wakoski
My sister in her well-tailored silk blouse hands me
the photo of my father
in naval uniform and white hat.
I say, “Oh, this is the one which Mama used to have on her dresser.”

My sister controls her face and furtively looks at my mother,   
a sad rag bag of a woman, lumpy and sagging everywhere,
like a mattress at the Salvation Army, though with no holes or tears,
and says, “No.”

I look again,
and see that my father is wearing a wedding ring,
which he never did
when he lived with my mother. And that there is a legend on it,   
“To my dearest wife,
       Love
       Chief”
And I realize the photo must have belonged to his second wife,   
whom he left our mother to marry.

My mother says, with her face as still as the whole unpopulated part of the
state of North Dakota,
“May I see it too?”
She looks at it.

I look at my tailored sister
and my own blue-jeaned self. Have we wanted to hurt our mother,
sharing these pictures on this, one of the few days I ever visit or   
spend with family? For her face is curiously haunted,
not now with her usual viperish bitterness,
but with something so deep it could not be spoken.
I turn away and say I must go on, as I have a dinner engagement with friends.
But I drive all the way to Pasadena from Whittier,
thinking of my mother’s face; how I could never love her; how my father
could not love her either. Yet knowing I have inherited
the rag-bag body,
stony face with bulldog jaws.

I drive, thinking of that face.
Jeffers’ California Medea who inspired me to poetry.   
I killed my children,
but there as I am changing lanes on the freeway, necessarily glancing in the
rearview mirror, I see the face,
not even a ghost, but always with me, like a photo in a beloved’s wallet.

How I hate my destiny.

Diane Wakoski, “The Photos” from Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987. Copyright © 1988 by Diane Wakoski. Reprinted with the permission of David R. Godine/Black Sparrow Press, www.blacksparrowbooks.com/titles/wakoski.htm.

Source: Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987 (1988)

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Poet Diane Wakoski b. 1937

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Subjects Midlife, Family & Ancestors, Living, The Body, Growing Old, Nature, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Diane  Wakoski

Biography

Diane Wakoski, described as an "important and moving poet" by Paul Zweig in the New York Times Book Review, is frequently named among the foremost contemporary American poets by virtue of her experiential vision and her unique voice. Wakoski's poems focus on intensely personal experiences—on her unhappy childhood, on the painful relationships she has had with men and, perhaps most frequently, on the subject of being Diane . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Midlife, Family & Ancestors, Living, The Body, Growing Old, Nature, Relationships

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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