I had a boyfriend who told me
stories about his family, how an argument
could end up with his father grabbing
a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurling it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below.
In my family it was fists, and direct hits
to the solar plexus, and nobody
ever forgave anyone, but in his stories
I could believe people really loved each other,
even when they yelled
and shoved their feet through cabinet doors,
or held a chair like a bottle of champagne
and broke it against the wall, rungs
exploding from their holes.
I said it was harmless, the fury
of the passionate—elaborate and dramatic.
He said it was the curse
of being born Italian and Catholic,
and that when he looked out that window
all he saw was something rudely crushed.
But what I saw was a gorgeous
three-layer cake fallen open like a flower
on the sidewalk, the candles broken,
or sunk deep in the icing, but every one of them
still burning, refusing
to let anything put them out.
Editor’s Note: “Family Stories” originally appeared in Ploughsahres, Spring, 1998, and was reprinted in Smoke ( BOA Editions, 2000 ). Used by permission of the author.