origin story
by Amy Marengo

my father played
in a waste pit
on the grounds
of a chemical plant
next to his house

he was 17
when he tried trapezing
across a plywood board
a makeshift bridge
when he fell hip-deep
in the sludge

doctors said
you have so many
chemicals inside you
we can’t begin
to pin down even
a thousandth of them

he was 19
when doctors said
you have cancer
all those chemicals
it’s no wonder

they gave him radiation
they removed a testicle
they said you’re sterile
lucky to be alive

he was 20
when he was drinking
at the rod ‘n gun club
when a hot brunette walked in

he was finishing a budweiser
when he fell in love
with a hot brunette

she was 25
a psych nurse
who just left
her second husband

years later
my father was still in love
when he picked her up
from her nightshift
when she told him
she was pregnant
he cut the engine
they cried into
each other’s necks
they laughed
they rubbed wet noses
on each other’s shoulders
and seatbelts
they asked how?

doctors said
a miracle
they said
it looks like a girl
they said
she looks healthy

my father always
wanted a daughter
with blonde hair
and brown eyes
he wanted to name me
amie after his favorite song

my mother wanted
to name me amy after
a character
in her favorite book

they never agreed

he was 24
when I was cribbed
in a bright room of cribs
when I was squinting
when he visored
his hands above me
when he screamed
someone turn off
the damned lights!
they’re pissing off
my daughter!

he couldn’t believe it
my daughter
my daughter
he always wanted
a daughter

it didn’t matter
that my mother
wrote amy
on the birth certificate
while a nurse
dimmed lights
in a room full of cribs

it didn’t matter
that my red hair
turned gold
my newborn eyes
turned golden brown

it didn’t matter
that I came
18 days late
in the middle
of a blizzard
because I was his light-
sensitive daughter
who would ride horses
and play soccer
and never sink
if he could help it
hip-deep in a chemical-
waste pit

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: In the late 80s, my dad often brought me to Southwick’s Zoo in Massachusetts. Sometimes we posed for pictures on top of elephants. Sometimes next to baby lions. This time we hung out with a big snake.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Marengo recently graduated from Virginia Tech’s MFA program. To learn more about her awards and publications, visit her at