What If I Wasn’t Born as Much as I Fell Out

by Jim Zola
The Waters
First Place, April 2021
Judged by Sarah Carleton

Here’s to the biggest baby born
in Brooklyn, my father’s claim to fame.
It’s in the telling. The Irish
barmaid, Grandma Z, who weighed

90 pounds, a home delivery.
The punchline being he was an only child.
Of course. She lost her mind,
or that’s what they said back then.

Now I work incessantly
on my family tree. So many
branches, Lord So-and-So, oodles
of kin. It’s no longer just a tree.

Pulling up roots it walks down the street
terrorizing neighborhood dogs.
Perhaps I’m overcompensating
for the lack of actual cousins.

Fourteen pounds. When his own father
passed a year after the birth, people
waited for things to fly out of
the Church Street brownstone windows.

Years later she said she didn’t remember
a thing. It was May in Brooklyn.
1923. The year the Cotton Club
started serving prohibition beer.

The air was filled with hope I suppose.
And a baby’s cry. And I, father of three,
raise my glass now, a toast to all forgotten,
the biggest baby born in Brooklyn.

"What If I Wasn’t Born as Much as I Fell Out" gets better every time I read it. That first line grabs my attention like someone clinking a class to make a toast, and the story that follows, with its twists and exaggerations, has the ring of a tall tale shared with a tipsy crowd. The piece is carefully crafted to give the sense of spilling out rather than being labored over. The middle stanza lets us know this is larger than a piece of family lore, with the tree taking on a life of its own in a fantastic surreal twist. The poet combines words in unexpected ways too—my favorite is "oodles / of kin." And with very few words, he conveys a sense of the century and place and leaves clues about his own life, with references to Brooklyn, Prohibition, and his three children. The poem is delightful and original. --Sarah Carleton