The first story in Mary Caponegro’s book we are reading for February is “The Daughter’s Lamentation.” Caponegro follows the word to its root, as this “story” is more lamentation; that is a song, poem or piece of music that laments–expresses grief or regret.
The daughter, unnamed, is a women who has returned to her family house on the largest of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. She is the only “loyal sibling” to her father, a widower and architect of some renown. The woman spends a good part of the story recounting her childhood: her sad and weary mother, as well as the pedantic father who took the family all over the world to look at architectural wonders, including Stonehenge, the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower. Early on she says, “It is customary, is it not, in times of loss or instability, to cultivate an intimacy with memories?” (12) But there is a tint she cannot take from these memories and Caponegro subtly builds a menace into the story. Throughout she also recollects her early history as a ballerina and soon images from that past pop up: “…one is always leaping up from or into the arms of a man who sex is trapped in a stocking, like the squeezed face of a thief.” (15) Something else is going on as the story seesaws between paragraphs about the now quiet and decaying house on the lake the father built (and his loneliness in old age as he roosts there) and a childhood with a man part bully and part something much more terrifying.
In front of the Eiffel Tower she never lost “the tactile memory of the pad of his thumb pressing firmly the lace that edged my louse, against my clavicle…as if to there imprint its pattern.” (18) Later in this paragraph, one of the most wondrous in the story, she describes a doctor’s stethoscope probing her chest in search of a rhythm: “I thought perhaps detecting Father’s thumbprints over me, each time a little farther down.” (18) This and other sections make it close to clear that some sort of sexual abuse also took place, though to Caponegro’s credit she comes at these questions obliquely, through a tirelessly lyrical menage of language.
Throughout the woman protests and directly addresses the man who has ruled over her life (she never married) asking, “What do you in fact infer from the Sicilian temples whose vast columns tower over the sea?” (19) Finally, the woman is also trying to come to terms with her father’s eventual death and burial, at turns imagining that with the house he had built his own Tarquinian tomb (fresco example of one below),
as well as the final imagining of him sinking into the lake’s “vitreous abyss.” How will she go on? The picture is bleak as she says that she “must atone for others’ sins.”
It’s a story that seems to have been constructed with as much care as some of the temples and structures alluded to, with whole worlds of thought living in sentences, heavy clusters of images arising like patches of blackberries in the depths of the bush.
What did others think? How near or far did you feel the abuse, if at all?