Alan Shapiro

On Thumbing Through Smith’s Recognizable Patterns of Human Malformation
July 15, 2012 Shapiro Alan

On Thumbing Through Smith’s Recognizable Patterns of Human Malformation


And what of the bird-headed dwarfs

On page 657, the naked boy

and girl in a bleak light

on a shameless table, propped up

side by side by a single hand,

by a thumb and finger?


What of the boy’s chest, or the girl’s,

no wider than a deck of cards,

each face no longer than a thumb?

What of the normal eyes

made huge by the shrunken

features? Or the wick-


like legs they cannot

straighten, the twisted arms,

the smile as sweet as any

that only the girl

is smiling, still too young

to get it, as she holds her arms up


high as if for an embrace

and not because she had been told to

for the picture for the text book

so we can see them better,

smiling as if pretending so

could made it so,


while the older boy, who gets it,

his mouth like crimped thread,

grimacing, as he looks away,

won’t look into the camera—

looking away as from

a small unpleasantness


he grudgingly gives in to

for his own good

though he can’t see how

or why, the helpless

rageful dignity of looking

elsewhere, as if it were



the body only, and not

him caught naked

there on page 657

of the 1000 page book,

unhoused, unhouseled

on a metal table, in the blameless


wrong of a design he gets,

he gets it, if not all the time

and everywhere, then there

and then, when the camera flashes

fixing him inside the isn’t

of what everyone else is,



which is why he isn’t

smiling like his sister, no,

not now, not here, not

even if asked to, he won’t

be like the other smiling

children in the book,


who smile like children

even while being spit

out on the page by what

beyond it and outside

the book is deeply

drinking all the others in.

Alan Shapiro is the author of 13 books of poetry, two memoirs, a novel, a book of critical essays and two translations. His awards include the Kingsley Tufts Award, 2 NEAs, a Guggenheim and a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award. His newest book of poems, Life Pig, was published in 2016 along with a book of essays, That Self-Forgetful Perfectly Useless Concentration, both from University of Chicago Press. He is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina.