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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011



I was adopted at six weeks from Catholic Charities in Baltimore. My brother was also adopted from them at that age, four years later. I met my birth mother once, just after my son was born in 1997. She has since died. I never had the chance to meet my birth father. After carrying his phone number around with me for years, the night I finally called turned out to be the night of his funeral.



Like many poets, I am interested in the dynamics of connection and disconnection. I find resonances of this fundamental tension in the natural world and among people. Perhaps had I not been adopted, I would still have been drawn here, but I believe that issues of belonging and betrayal, so tied to connection and disconnection, hold powerful sway over my emotional and creative life because of my experience of adoption. Adoption doesn't surface in the poems, per se, but these themes surely do.



“The Persistence of Memory”

While time unwinds beside the window,
no boat floats by, not a soul or a saint in overalls,
not even your father, graying and swollen.
There are rules here.

You close a door, lie down.
You sort word from word, spare no one.
The baby who rises from the river turns away,
lured by no more than leaves falling softly to the ground.

She drifts through the mist, lies down
on a mound of soft earth, plump and satisfied.
You are not her.
You stayed caged, learning

the alphabet of abandonment.

(Author's Note: "I have been using a 40 word meditation another poet shared with me from a workshop with Carolyn Forche, so it's her prompt. I got a postcard of a painting called "Freud's Dream" from my psychoanalyst and a series of poems has begun to emerge. This is one of them which seems at home at Poets on Adoption.")

Update: And then, I read Nick Carbo's poem, "The Number One Song on the Day I was Born was 'Oh, Pretty Woman' by Roy Orbison," and decided to write about adoption head-on, using the hit song as prompt, to make my way into the poem. Thus, "Lawrence Welk," below. Thanks, Nick.

Lawrence Welk

I romanticize the 60s: sexual liberation, flower power, passive resistance. I think bell bottoms. I think pot brownies. I think anti-war protests, headlines spewing signs of progress: Kennedy sworn in, rocket ships in orbit, the pill mass produced. I think the countercultural moment of the century spawned a revolutionary gestalt that, having been all my life the black sheep, the mis-fit, the leftie among rightists, I count as my birthright. Then I look up the pop chart topper for 15 February 1961 and discover, not Elvis, not Ray Charles or Orbison or even Dion but, at number one on the day I was born, Lawrence Welk singing Calcutta -- a schmaltzy, eerily familiar tune that loops along, accordions swelling and shrinking, high-heeled, lip-sticked women la-la-la-la-la-la-ing, cocktails sloshing, the 50s hanging on. And, yep, I think, isn’t that the year your birth mother, cowed by catholic aunts and a devout mother, didn’t keep you, didn’t even look, likely, at your face, knowing, as all the women in her life intoned, she was not fit to mother, having dumped her baby’s father, i.e. my father, soon after getting, as they said, knocked up, and having, soon thereafter, married a man with a heroine addiction and no interest, as my mother, the one who raised me, stressed, in some other guy’s baby.



Giavanna Munafo holds an MFA from the University of Iowa (poetry) and also studied writing while pursuing her BA and PhD at the University of Virginia. She has taught writing since 1985 at various colleges and universities, including the University of Iowa, the University of Virginia, George Washington University, and Dartmouth College. She currently teaches in the Women's and Gender Studies program at Dartmouth and at the Writers Center in White River Junction, VT.



EILEEN said...
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EILEEN said...

I love it that you ended up dialogue-ing with one of the other poems on the site! It's a powerful result,