Poetry: it inevitably relates to -- among others -- identity, history, culture, class, race, community, economics, politics, power, loss, health, desire, regret, language, form and genre disruption, love ... as well as the absences thereofs. The same may be said about Adoption.

Saturday, March 12, 2011



I am half-adopted -- my mother died when I was 4 months old and my father remarried when I was 11 months old. I was not told any of this until I was 18 years old, but that's another story. I did get to meet my first mother's family. As with many reunion stories, after the first excitement of meeting them the relationship became difficult and I asked my father to tell them not to contact me. I have had very sporadic (decades go by) contact since.

As a mom, I adopted two baby boys. The first one died of meningitis the day before he would have been 5 months old, Christmas Eve 1980; he had been with us for 2.5 weeks and of course the adoption was nowhere near finalized. At first the hospital wouldn't let us be with him, but our doctor said "go back!" and our social worker intervened and we were able to be with him for the next few days until he died.

The second came to us at 11 weeks old only 6 weeks after the first one died. We were incredibly lucky that they bent the rules so much (you are supposed to wait for a long grieving period before they'll let you adopt after a child has died). He is now 30 and we have a 7 year old granddaughter.

By the way, my husband's sister adopted two children.

And my mother's uncle adopted two children. They were never told they were adopted.



I had stopped writing for about 10 years when my first baby died. It was his death that started me writing again. Not the adoption. My own story -- thinking I was one person and learning that I was another -- has had a deep effect on my whole -- what can it be called? -- stance, standpoint, outlook (as in looking out through the senses), etc., and hence my poetics. The fluidity of self is not an abstract concept for me, but visceral; lies (no matter how well meant) and betrayal (ditto) have surrounded me my whole life; the difficulty of acknowledging truth is again quite visceral; also the drive to *really know* especially at a fundamental level, more fundamental than language, and language coming from that level...

Because I was much closer to my second mother's family than to my father's (my "blood") family, I think I carry adoption fairly lightly, that is, it never occurred to me that I was less of a mother, that either of my children was less of my child, and I am always surprised when other people indicate that adoption is strange and not a normal way to raise a child. I am especially surprised at the lengths people go to in order to have "their own" baby.

I wonder for my surviving son what it is like for him to have his genetic (that is too cold a word) heritage so thoroughly cut off. We've offered to help him contact his birth parents if he wishes, but he has shown no interest. Friends who have been adopted have told me of their fears of rejection by their birth parents, and I guess that's what it is for him.

Love is love, I wish that all people would come to understand this.



I don't have any! Sorry. Or maybe all of my poetry is infused with adoption, so thoroughly that I can't recognize it...

[Curator's Note: Featured below is an excerpt from Judith Roitman's poem "The stress of meaning", a poem that I thought was "infused" with the poet's adoption experiences.]


The stress of meaning
(variations on a line of Susan Howe)

The stress of meaning

            Susan Howe
            Pearl Harbor

But "of"
how can you understand "of"?

Lifting             the glass
watching the water flow
toward my (can't see it)
mouth.             Tasting
no taste ("we paid good money for this!")—

"my mouth".
Unbelievable—"my mouth".

Not "stress"
but "the stress"—
each the same—
table, chair, purpose of life,
looking for physical hooks to sink into.

The idea that thought can do anything.

Even the wrong cemetery—

what myth is this?—

cars circling, some of us looking
between the graves, everyone so sure
(the wall along the street)
Some barely knowing who we are talking about
Fear that we will get separated and never find each other again.

Once in light—she was napping—
her face relaxed

(this sort of meaning)

“I was a road.
People walked on me”

“Wednesday is garbage day”

In the sun by the beach umbrella
lying back—the canvas chair—
hair hidden under a bandanna

(her thick hair—why did she dye it?)

her whole face smooth.
You couldn’t recognize her.

Such luxury
holding together the story of who until
staring into a glass of water

red pen reflected in one facet

such layers!
thick bottom
clear middle
top a lens
reproducing the bottom

top facets on one side refracting light away
facets on the other side clear

but refracting the desk edge one edge curvind down on each,
many edges, none connected—

how do I know it isn’t so?—

keys refracting thorugh the bottom like pebbles.

But creating?

Molecules ad-

So that you can run your finger! around the edge.

Holding it

Like willing
the breath


and the effort it took.

It wasn’t until June
that Hideko played her accordion

(such diligent music)

spotlight                         on
stage             in

Too beautiful! Drawn in!
Already lost


arm stretched
(top of pectorals,
lymph glands)
towards alarm clock

action FAKE

(the passive

but meaning
on eyes (pressure)
before (thought of) blinking
in form/haze
not right
something not right
the (intruder)
trying to make (stress)
sense to see
(shape) chair


led on by language like

[Previously published as a chapbook by Standing Stones Press, Morris, Minn., 1997]



Judith Roitman was born and raised in New York City (well, Bayside Queens), went to Sarah Lawrence (English), lived in the Bay Area, went to Berkeley (math) lived in the Boston area, now lives in Lawrence, Kansas. Her book No Face: Selected and New Poems appeared in 2008, published by First Intensity Press.


1 comment:

AB said...

This is wonderful.