Birth Certificates

Cerco un paese innocente
(“I am searching for an innocent country”.)
— Guiseppe Ungaretti

At the first recording of my birth
the typist’s finger slipped
and named my father Ered
while leaving me
with no name at all, just a date
and 6.45 in the morning
duly noted as the time
my tenure on Earth began
in an occupied country
that accepted defeat
but never its guilt.

The second time the paper
looked official, duly stamped and with
the appropriate sum (for three
Schillings) and every letter was in place
although I was assigned
a name for a family to which
I had no blood connection
and only one parent.
It’s complicated, but that happens
when your grandfather
turns out to be your Oma’s brother-in-law,
but those were years
too desperate to have us judge
each detail in a person’s life.

In a later time when I
had need to prove that I existed
the officials met the challenge,
even making up employment
for my father and locating him
at an address where he
had never lived. But my birthplace
was rendered as accurately
as the eight Schilling cost of the stamps
that gave me authenticity.

I’m well documented now: passport,
green card, social security number,
a credit card, and memberships
for various gardens, institutions, and
the library. The numbers say
who I am, where I go, what I buy,
and they stream into infinity
taking in each David, Sanura,
Roberta, Mohammed and Yuri
just trying to make sense
of the lives we inherit.

David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems often reflect his affection for the natural world. A new book of older poems, Unmapped Worlds, is out from FutureCycle Press. He recently took up watercoloring again, after twenty dry years. Read other articles by David.