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, May 31, 2011



Like the Lotus

December 29, 2006

I am standing on a cliff fifty feet above the Pacific Ocean, balanced on a precipice between two oceans. I don’t know how life has brought me to this place, this beautiful rock on the Northern Izu Peninsula on the island of Honshu. But I’m here, with my husband and dog. We’ve hiked up twenty miles to stand on this small point of rock in Dogashima, watching the waves crest below and the falcons crest above.

It’s my birthday; the dawn of a new year. I sit down on this line of solid land that cuts into the cliff and give thanks to all of those who have held my hand to pull me up the mountain of life. I feel safe, yet I am literally perched on a dangerous place, a narrow cliff that juts straight down to the ocean. But it’s not the literal I am interested in. Deep in my heart, I feel a sense of security and peace that I’ve never felt before. So I shift my weight to one foot. I lift the other foot up, place it onto my thigh. I look straight ahead and hold my focus. If I look down I will be overcome with fear. I hold my tree pose, breathing deeply. Strength and courage flood my cells. I repeat my mantra: “I am calm, I am poised…at the center of life’s storms, I stand serene.”

It’s taken me 44 years to get here.

I’ve searched half the world for this feeling.

And I know, of course, that it is fleeting.

I don’t have a Zen master, a guru, or even, really, a religion. But neither did Tu Fu, Basho, Musashi Miyamoto or countless other poets and wanderers who made their way through hills and valleys, over mountains and rivers, to seek solace. They didn’t have to sit in a meditation hall and stare at a wall to look inside. They just looked around and paid attention to what was near them. Their teachers were the mountains, rivers, rocks, and trees. Their parents were Mother earth, Father sky. Then they woke up. Or should I say, were awakened. I’m waiting for my epiphany. I’ve found ten thousand other ways to be a mother, but I’m still waiting for a child.


I have a friend who took his 3-year old boy up to the mountains in the Japanese countryside. The boy ran ahead excitedly, as little boys will do. There was a wooden footbridge. It hung over a steep ravine, a hundred foot drop. The boy ran ahead onto the footbridge. The footbridge was made of planks of old wood. Not many people walked in the mountains anymore. There were gaps in the planks. Big gaps.

The father watched.

Every year on the day the boy died, my friend posts a memorial picture of his son on his blog. The boy playing a drum set. Standing in front of a samurai helmet. Smiling for the camera. Making the peace sign with both hands. No words, no commentary. Only his son’s picture and the word “elegy.”

To remember. To honor.

Life is not safe. I know that. Nothing is certain. Things we hope for, dream about, come or don’t come, and then are gone.

I meet with my friend often. In our own ways, we both mourn our lost children.

Somehow, we have been drawn together in this strange world to mirror each other’s pain. To give each other comfort and hope. We will move on, our mutual presence seems to say. We give each other that.


My husband is chonan. In Japan, this is a serious business. Chonan means the oldest son and heir to the family name and whatever fortune it may have acquired. While we’d been “away” in the paradise of Northern California for ten years, his younger sister had been doing the dad’s cooking and laundry. But his sister, now in her thirties, wanted to start her own life—open her own business, move on. We couldn’t ask her to take care of the dad forever. It was Shogo’s turn—our turn.

I hadn’t wanted to go back to Tokyo, the busy life, the pollution, the stress. But I loved my husband, and wanted to be with him. And I knew that a good marriage was based on compromise—even sacrifice. After all, the root of the word sacrifice is sacred. In the highest sense, to sacrifice is to do something completely for someone else, with no personal gain. As an independent American woman, that took some getting used to.

And it was time to start a family.

I’d gone about trying to have a child the way I’d gone about everything else in my life—one part perseverance, one part “trusting the process.” And I thought, as many do, that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” I had a full, fantastic life and no regrets. But after eight years, I did something I’d never done before in quite the same way. I got down on my knees and prayed.

And then my beloved aunt got cancer. Her one regret is that she did not have children. She worked all her life in child protective services, and had wanted to adopt. She urges me forward with a force and conviction that only impending death can render.

I learn of an Australian psychologist who has adopted an infant in Japan. When I contact her, she gives me the name of the government agency—Jido Sodan Jo. The application asks questions like: why do you want a child, what kind of upbringing and education would you give it, what are the most important values you would share with a child, what about religion? Filling out the application is challenging, but it is an opportunity for Shogo and me to become very clear on what our values are. So we send in our application and wait.


“Japan is a difficult country to adopt from,” everyone says. Not only are there few children up for adoption, but it’s the only country in the world where you need to get the extended family’s approval for the process.

Bloodlines are seen as all-important, one’s ancestors are one’s link to the past. The family registry or koseki goes back generations and lists each birth and marriage, tying family to family. When we got married, I did not take my husband’s name, and this caused a commotion at the ward office, as the clerk said there was no “official space” to put my own name on the form.

My husband stood his ground. “Well, make a space,” he said, knowing that was impossible. One thing about bureaucracy is that it most definitely cannot make a space.

It would have been much easier for him to request or insist that I change my name, but he didn’t. He just waited for the bureaucrat to find a way to remedy the situation. I kept my own name and was added to the koseki.

Then doubts start to flood my mind. If we succeed in adoption, I’ll be bucking the system again.

I know how difficult it is to raise a child, let alone one who is adopted in a country that is not particularly “open” to adoption. In Japan, most adoptions are kept secret. Some children don’t even find out until their parents die.

So we brace ourselves and ask my husband’s father for permission. I find out, to my surprise, that his own father was adopted. Samurai on one side, gangster on the other. My husband has them all in his ancestry—geisha, gangster, samurai, rickshaw driver. This assortment of characters pleases me, makes me feel less strange for my difference, more welcome. My father-in-law says yes.

We ask his sister, since she lives with us. She says yes. We breathe a big sigh of relief. But still I worry. All the possible scenarios tumble through my mind: I am a Westerner and the child will not look like me, so everyone will know he or she is adopted. I know of foreign women who don’t take their half-Japanese children to school as their children are ashamed and don’t want their peers to know they are “hafu.” And because he is “different,” I don’t want him or her to be the victim of ijime, school bullying. That could lead to hikikomori, someone afraid to leave the house who spends his childhood at home. Even worse, it could lead to jisatsu or suicide. I know I am being neurotic, already thinking about the difficulties the child will face in grade school, middle school, junior high, high school and beyond. I know I am already being a mother.

I share my fears with my husband. He was beaten up in school, too.

“We turned out okay,” he says. It was why I studied karate and meditation, which ultimately led me to Japan.

“Yeah, but we got our asses kicked a lot!”

“Maybe we went through it so our child wouldn’t have to,” he says.

“That’s a nice thought,” I shake my head. If only that’s how it worked.

We decide that we are already a rainbow family, he with his long hair and stay-at-home job, me with my red streaks and funky yoga studio, not to mention our strange pit-bull mutt and his family’s eccentric lineage. In a conservative neighborhood in a conservative country, we already stand out as freaks. Why not embrace it completely?

Perpetual Yes

In September, the agency calls about a little girl. We say yes. Nothing happens. In December, they call about a boy. We wait. They offer the child to another family. Many young couples are waiting to adopt, and we are low on the list due to our ages.

I have to do something proactive. I am fiercely committed to living my dreams. If I’m not, who else will be? I contact a dozen international adoption agencies. Most of them don’t write back. The few who do bother to respond say they don’t work with families who live abroad. We apply in Vietnam. We wait some more.

Finally, I make my husband call the orphanage. I insist that he tell them to stop calling us every month to ask if we are interested in a different child.

“Tell them to put a perpetual `yes’ on our file, ok? Tell them that whatever child they have available, we are interested.”

“Whatever child?”

“Yes. Whatever child.”

I want to say all those things like “It isn’t fair,” and “Why us?” but I already know the answers to those questions, that there are no answers. This is our fate, our journey, our path.

And somehow, miraculously, it works.

A little boy is available.

“Yes!” we say, eager to meet the child who is destined to be ours.

But when they come to our house to tell us about him, the information is sketchy at best.

“Do you have a picture?” I ask.

No picture.

This astounds me. More people have cameras in Japan than they have driver’s licenses. Japan is the land of the camera—how could they not have a picture?

“Are you interested or not?” they ask. They’re not messing around with this child. He’s suffered enough.

“We’re interested,” we say together.

And for the second time in my life, I get down on my knees and pray.

Mothering Zen

Feb 1, 2007

We visit Shinji in the orphanage for hours, days, weeks, months. Finally, we can bring him home for an overnight. Then, finally, we can bring him home forever, just after his second birthday.

We go to a playground where he can see the bullet trains passing overhead. At the playground, he comes up to the other kids and wants to play with their toys, or play with their balls, or play with them in general. He likes to hold hands. He wants contact, touch, closeness. Because he grew up in an orphanage where everything was communal, he misses it. He has no concept of personal ownership.

The first time we give him Ai-Ai, the stuffed monkey we’d brought to take with him in the car—he tries to leave it behind at the orphanage. We have to convince him that he can keep it: he’s never had a single thing of his own.

He is the opposite of other kids, who have to learn how to share. He brings his own toys to share, but the other kids don’t take much interest in them. I don’t want to try to make sense of things like this, or explain everything to him He’ll learn. I want to cut a path in this crazy forest of life with him. Sitting Zen. Walking Zen. Playing Zen. Mothering Zen. It’s all practice, and we have a lifetime.

But my aunt doesn’t. I want him to meet her before she dies.

So we bring him to San Francisco.

We see a homeless man with a cat on the street in front of Macy’s on Union Square. The cat has been hit by a car and the man needs money for its hospital bills. Everyone rushes by the man and the cat, but Shinji pulls my arm, insists on petting the cat. Then he sits down on the pavement and tries to pick up the cat to hug it. I tell him the cat is hurt and he shouldn’t touch it. So he pets it instead. Now people stop to look at the little boy sitting on the sidewalk, blocking their way. Some mothers pull their children away. A photographer stops to take a picture. Others put money in the basket. More children come to sit by his side.

Somehow, he brings together the splintered worlds of strangers. He is a healer of cats and hearts, a small wonder in this world of so many wonders. If I ever felt any doubts, I do not now.

All That has Divided Us Will Merge

September 14, 2007

Though there are many customs for birth in Japan—the mother returning to her parents’ house, a celebration of the child’s first solid foods—we’ve missed them all. So we return to California to hold a Jewish baby naming ceremony for Shinji. Many people from my mother’s community gather to welcome him, though we are strangers. Shinji is given the name Benjamin after his maternal grandfather, who came from Ludz, Poland, and Walter Benjamin, the Jewish writer/philosopher and member of the resistance in WWII. There is a ceremony where we throw all of our sins into the Napa River. Any time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, in the Jewish tradition, it is customary to throw breadcrumbs into a body of water as a symbolic act of repentance. The ritual is called Tashlich, A Sending Out. We gather at a waterfront to “cast away” the sins of the past and resolve to have a better year in the year to come.

My mother and stepfather, father and stepmother, my sisters and their sons are there. The whole family has gathered to heal and rejoice. All over the world, it is a holy time. In India it is the Ganesha festival, honoring the Elephant god of new beginnings and remover of obstacles. In the Muslim world, it is Ramadan.

My mother’s friends, most of whom I don’t know, come up to congratulate us. Some tell me their stories, of how they too were adopted, or how they have adopted children, and what a wonderful mitzvah it is.

Tossing bread into the water, everything is still. It is a beautiful moment.

The congregation has prepared a special blessing for the occasion. It says:
May the one who blessed your ancestors bless you. We hope that you will be a blessing to everyone you know, humanity is blessed to have you.

Shinji sits atop his father’s shoulders wearing his beaded yarmulke, smiling and dancing. Shinji is Jewish and Japanese, he is universal.

I look at my husband and see that he is crying, too.
Humanity is blessed to have you.

The adults gather and say the Shabbat prayer:
And then all that has divided us will merge
Then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both women and men will be gentle
And then both men and women will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
Then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the environment
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

My mother has ordered a special cake for Shinji decorated with Pokemon, though Shinji seems to be the only one there who does not know who Pokemon is. He devours the cake, which says: “Mazel Tov, Shinji. Welcome to the Tribe.”

April, 2008

My aunt passes away. I am stricken with grief. She is my beloved, my friend, my mentor, my guide. But I cannot cry forever. Shinji has been given a pogo stick and wants to bounce on the sidewalk. It is dangerous, but he can’t be stopped. He seems impervious to pain, though I know he is not. It’s just that he learned not to cry at the orphanage, where help might not have been as quick and as plentifully as it might otherwise have come.

Suddenly, he points to the pavement.

“Cho cho! Cho cho!”

A butterfly lay on the ground. A beautiful orange and black monarch.

Nette imasu,”—it’s sleeping. I use the Japanese euphemism for death.

He leans over its lifeless body. “Shinda?” he asks. Is it dead?

I wonder how, and where, he has learned that word.

“Yes,” I say, scooping up the butterfly in my hands and bringing it over to the garbage.

But this will not do.

Hana! Hana,” he stomps his feet and motions to a potted daisy bush in front of the house. Understanding, I carry the butterfly over and put it to rest on the bed of flowers. He covers it with a leaf. Then he points up. Sora, he says. Sky.

Satisfied, he takes my hand and leads me back to the pogo stick, where he bounces and bounces until dinnertime.

(First appeared in the May 2010 Shambhala Sun magazine. It also will appear in Best Buddhist Writing anthology 2011, edited by Melvin McLeod, and published by Shambhala.)

Leza Lowitz and her son



I am not sure if the adoption experience per se has affected my poetry as much as becoming a mother. It has made me more patient, compassionate, understanding. At least, I try.




Orange and black butterfly
alights on a potted sage
in an alley.

Put one hand on top of the other,
spread your fingers into wings,
move them up and down,
together and apart.

What else is there to do
than to become the butterfly,
winging through the world,

Its freedom our freedom,
its beauty our beauty.


Not words
but the echo

of a temple bell
after it has been struck.

not action
but an awareness of being.

Form finds form
as in painting, prayer, song.

Resistance too,
finds a welcome,

for without resistance
there is no yielding,

without struggle
no triumph,

without sound,
no silence.

What if all your mistakes
were really divine designs

to teach you how to see
beyond yourself?

What you struggle against
eventually becomes you,

the way river becomes ocean,
small water inseperable

from big water,
everything in flow.

Rock Gardens

There are those who believe life is like a recalcitrant garden—
no matter how many times you pull the weeds,
they’ll grow right back: no provocation, no fertilizer,
barely any sunshine, not even much water.
They think that like the poison Oleander
the more you abuse yourself, the stronger you grow.

I’m not a believer.
Drench your neighbor in compassion,
give them a Japanese rock garden any day.
They don’t care to be cultivated by abrasion,
don’t want to blossom under duress.
They need only to be tended to gently,
contemplated in serenity by moonlight,
raked over gently,

(Poems reprinted with permission from Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections, Stone Bridge Press, June 2011)



Leza Lowitz was born in San Francisco in 1962 and grew up in Berkeley, California. She has a B.A. in English Literature from U.C. Berkeley, and an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For over two decades, she has been bringing together the worlds of poetry, writing and yoga, sharing her experience in Yoga Journal, Shambhala Sun, The Best Buddhist Writing 2011, The Huffington Post, The Japan Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among many others. Her award-winning poetry has been translated into Japanese, French, Spanish, Burmese and Farsi.

The author of over 17 books, Lowitz is the recipient of numerous honors for her poetry, fiction, and translations. Among them are the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Best Book of Poetry and The Bay Area Independent Publisher’s Association Award for Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By, the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, an individual Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a California Arts Council Individual Fellowship in Poetry, an Independent Scholar Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and together with her husband, Shogo Oketani, the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature from the Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture at Columbia University. Other honors include the Copperfield’s Dickens Fiction Award, the Barbara Deming Memorial Award in the Novel, the Japanophile Fiction Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award for Editorial Excellence, the Tokyo Journal Fiction Translation Award, and two Pushcart Prize nominations in Poetry.

Lowitz first made her way to Tokyo in 1989, where she worked as a freelance writer/editor for the Japan Times and the Asahi Evening News, and as an art critic for Art in America. She wrote regular radio reviews for NHK Radio’s “Japan Diary” and was a lecturer at the prestigious Tokyo University. Since 1990, Lowitz has been Corresponding Editor to Japan for Mänoa, for whom she has guest edited two features, including Silence to Light: Japan and the Shadows of War. She also broadcast book reviews on Asia for NPR’s “Pacific Time Radio.”

After almost a decade in California, Lowitz relocated to Tokyo in 2003, where she opened Sun and Moon Yoga. She is grateful to be able to write and to share her love of yoga with others. This essay on adoption appeared in Shambhala Sun, and is forthcoming in The Best Buddhist Writing 2011. She adopted her son in 2007 and considers him her wisest teacher.

She can be reached at www.lezalowitz.com and www.sunandmoon.jp


Monday, May 30, 2011



I came to adoption at the age of twenty-four, when I was told by my gynecologist that my chances of getting pregnant and having a live birth were very slim. I’d been married for a few years and my husband and I quickly decided to pursue adoption of an infant from South Korea, having had as young adults the image of the 1973 Saigon Baby Lift burned into our minds. As sad as it was to begin to adjust to the idea that I’d not be likely to make a baby, the prospect of international adoption was an open door we barreled through with gusto.

It was the early eighties in Fairfield county, Connecticut (not too far from where fellow poet and adoption essay writer Michael Snediker grew up) and the only Asians we regularly came into contact with were the owners and servers at the local Chinese restaurant. Thankfully, we were supported without restraint by our families and shared a sense that the world was larger and more diverse than our upbringing had shown us.

We filled out the forms, had our backgrounds checked, opened up our home for a home study, and waited. During this time, we received just one day of counseling from the adoption agency, headquartered in Massachusetts, but this really stuck with me: every person is wounded during his or her life; our adopted children will be aware (as would we) of one of those wounds very early on. In one sense, this helped me feel prepared, in a small way, for some of what was to come.

We picked up our three month old daughter at Logan airport in Boston on a mild May night in 1983. We were hungry on the drive home and I was eager to give Carly her first bottle, so we stopped at a chain restaurant. Our waitress offered to heat the bottle. A few moments later, she handed it to me and asked to see our baby. I turned Carly toward her with great pride. The woman flinched and backed away, unable to cover her shock. I don’t know whether she thought our daughter had Down syndrome (babies with Down have eyes which look vaguely Asian) or if she was simply shocked not to see a white child, but I felt a rush of near-murderous protectiveness I’d come to feel over and over again during Carly’s childhood. Strangers would approach us and ask how much she cost, tell us how cute “they” are when they’re babies, if she was Communist. People wanted to know if my six month old daughter spoke English. People assumed she didn’t speak English until she was in her teens. One of my childhood friends asked me during a phone call why I’d want to adopt a “gook.” Another friend, who’d just given birth to a son, let it be known that she’d let him play with her but that she wasn’t “marriage material.”

I registered every racial insult, real or perceived, conscious or accidental, that came our way. It was exhausting. At some point during her adolescence, I began to realize that my indignation was doing Carly no service at all. She’d developed her own set of defenses, the primary being humor. She told people she was Korean-Irish and replaced the lining of her Catholic school uniform with jaunty green cotton strewn with shamrocks. She’d taunt her younger sister (my biological daughter) “you may look like Mom, but she chose me.” Late one afternoon, I was fed up with my girls’ sniping at each other while we were in the grocery store. I yelled from the front of the line, “Carly, get over here right this minute!” A number of heads turned in her direction. She looked at me blankly and replied in a Japanese B-movie accent “I no know you, white devil. You not my motha!”

It took a few explanations before I was allowed to leave the store with her.

When she was 14, Carly and I took one of the first homeland tours of South Korea with 98 other American families with adopted Korean children. Though we’d been promised access to our children’s birth records at the adoption agency in Seoul, Korean law was changed when our plane was crossing the Atlantic: only the adoptees over the age of 18 would be allowed to obtain information about their birth parents. Most of adoptees in our group were girls; most had been left as infants at police stations, street corners, or other places where they’d be likely to be found. Carly was unusual in that we knew that she’d come from an intact family—the fourth of four girls. It was a blow to get so close to having the means to contact them and have that opportunity lost at the last minute. I promised Carly I’d do everything I could to let her birth family know she was safe and loved.

Once we returned to the U.S., it took a couple of years of phone calls and letters before I was told our adoption agency had made contact with Carly’s birth mother, who indicated she wanted to hear from us. Carly, then seventeen, sent a letter accompanied by a number of photos of her childhood—dressed as a Brownie, wet in a bathing suit, and proudly dandling a sackful of Halloween candy. A month or two later, she received four letters: one from her mother and each of her three older sisters. Once they were translated, we began to learn about the circumstances of her birth and relinquishment. The story we had been told by the agency about the details of her being given up for adoption had been a whitewash of a far more troubling reality, but that’s a story for Carly to tell. What I feel comfortable saying is this: it meant everything to her birth mother to know her daughter was loved.

Carly has visited her birth family in Seoul three times in the last ten years. She speaks only a few words of Korean; they speak only a few words of English. She has a different relationship with each of her birth sisters and is in touch via the internet with her extended family of nieces, nephews and cousins.

Two years ago when she married her husband Jordan, she walked down the aisle in a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress. Her birth mother, who had flown to the U.S. for the first time, tied the mint green jeogori with an intricate single-looped knot, then fastened a small pin at Carly’s neck. She stepped back and looked at her daughter—our daughter—and said “Now I die happy.”

Carly and her three mothers at her wedding: Left to right: Leslie (adoptive mother);
Carly; Carly's biological mother; and Pam (Carly's adoptive stepmother)



For me, adoption has been a process of opening. Sometimes it’s a warm sense of having created a bond from sheer love. Family is a thing consciously made and requiring regular upkeep. Sometimes it’s a sense that, by adopting a child of another race, I’ve made a political statement, one which others feel they have the right to weigh in on. The opening continues in other ways as well: my own racial identity as a white person feels fuller, less dissociated from the other races.

In my poetic imagination, the souls who inhabit my poems are not all white, not all happily awash in family. I’m aware of that deep desire to be one with others and of the limits on the reality of truly being “at one.” Adoption is a kind of mortar which attaches one person to another more or less perfectly, more or less eternally, more or less happily.



It’s funny, I’ve written a few poems about my younger daughter. I’ve written poems referring to both my daughters, but every poem I’ve tried to write about Carly as an adoptee has been unsuccessful. I veer into sentimentality or defensiveness. I worry about leaving the reader with more of a sense of exoticism than of familiarity with her as a person I love. I feel more comfortable writing about how my experience as a mother has changed as my daughters have entered adulthood. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that I wasn’t a poet when Carly was a child. I also want to balance my desire to write what moves me with her desire for privacy. It’s a moving target, though, as all writing about loved ones inevitably is.



Leslie McGrath became a mother at 25, when Eun Jin, who she and her husband renamed Carly, arrived on a 13 hour flight from Seoul, Korea. Leslie McGrath’s poems have been widely published, most recently in SLATE, Tiferet, Long Poem magazine (UK) and PANK. Winner of the 2004 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, her first collection of poetry, Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage, was a finalist for the CT Book Award and nominated for The Poet’s Prize. McGrath teaches creative writing and literature part time at Central CT State University and serves on the board of the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT.

Carly is now 28, a graduate of Lesley University, and is in charge of child nutrition at the CT Food Bank. She’s been married for two years to Jordan, who is blonde and blue-eyed, and enjoys speculating about the odds of having a blue-eyed baby—just to get a rise out of her adoptive mother.


Sunday, May 29, 2011



My adoption experience was totally positive. I was adopted as a baby and my parents were the best anyone could ever have. My mum and dad were just that, the best of people who gave me the best of starts in life. Two of my six children were also adopted by me, but that makes no difference in my family. I did find my birth mother some years ago but she died soon after we met. I did however find that I had another family and that was a very interesting experience, not totally successful, but I have one sister who has stayed close. Perhaps that will be a poem one day.

Jim Bennett reading for Adoption Matters North West event
at Gorton Abbey, January 2011, U.K.



Insofar as my poetry is informed by everything that I have ever experienced I suppose it is all in there somewhere, perhaps the way I view relationships, life even the world around me. I have written one dedicated chapbook on my adoption experience, MADE IN LIVERPOOL, and I was pleased to be able to record that.



made in Liverpool

like The Beatles
and Meccano
I was made in Liverpool

for me it was the city
not a path less traveled
that made all the difference

it was the dockland
a port and a place
to call home

inventory 1953

the inventory came with the baby
1 three piece outdoor set
4 Turkish Napkins
2 pair of socks
2 nightdresses
2 pair of shoes
2 vests
2 liberty bodices
2 pair knickers
1 cardigan
2 Jersey suits
1 pair rubber pants
1 pair mitts

it filled up the space
below the statement
which read
I will receive James into my home
feed, clothe and look after him
and bring him up
as carefully
and kindly
as I would a child of my own

below this and below the
was the familiar scratched
signature of my mother
who kept her word

the sign at the end of the road

there was a sign at the end of the road
it said “adopted”
I always thought
that was how
people knew

but no one had told me
I found out at 12
about the same time the Beatles
officially became
a phenomenon

in a shop
I heard a lady I did not know
to someone else
this is the one
Mary adopted
she said
as she smiled at me

and it was

I never told Mum or dad
kept it secret
like they had
but searched for
eventually found it
in an envelope
under clothes at the back
of a bedroom drawer

death of a pop star

I was driving up to Hyton
when I heard that John was dead
the news was not broken in any
thoughtful way
a newsreader came on the radio
just after Hey Jude was played
and said that he was dead

I didn’t know John
never saw him except at a distance
but at that moment I felt
a close member of my family
had been taken away
someone I had grown up with
someone I had loved
I wondered if anyone understood
why I was crying over the death
of a pop star

I need not have worried
Liverpool was subdued that day
the city grieved

in another week
I stood with thousands
at St Georges Hall
singing songs
from his Beatle years
and his solo work
and remembered

at the end of the night
we sang Imagine
for what must have been
the tenth time

and we all did

made in Liverpool (2)

like The Beatles
and Meccano
I was made in Liverpool

a foundling in the city
it gave me a home
and an identity

I grew with its poetry
its music
and I cherish it still

like The Beatles
and Meccano
I was made in Liverpool


as time moves on
sometimes it is necessary
to rename things
the Great War became
World War 1 when they decided to
have a rematch
the original series of Start Trek
only became “:the original series”
after more series were added
a reel to reel tape recorder
was originally just a tape recorder
then cassettes came along

so things change
and you need to find a retronym
but then some things don’t
some things are so unique that
you just know there will never be
a retronym for The Beatles
no rebranding
to The Original Beatles for them
their name will never change
but take a baby’s name
Anthony MacDonnell for example
just think what you can do with that

made in Liverpool

like The Beatles
and Meccano
I was made in Liverpool

(All poems are from Jim Bennett's MADE IN LIVERPOOL (Starwood Publications, 2006).)



Jim Bennett was born and still lives near Liverpool in England. He grew up in Liverpool during the years of the Liverpool Sound and the Liverpool Poets and it is from this tradition that he developed his own unique style and voice. He is the author of 64 books including books of poetry, books for children, and technical training manuals. In addition his CD "Down in Liverpool" a selection of poetry and music has brought Jim to the notice of a much wider audience. In a career spanning 44 years Jim has won many accolades for his performances and writing including Silver Stake for Performance Poetry (Manchester Slam 2001); Fante Prize for Literature (New Mexico 2000); Poetry Super Highway Poet of the Year 2000; Sefton Literary Competition prize winner; and San Francisco Beat Poetry Festival Competition, 1st prize and Judges Choice - October 2002. Jim also runs courses in Creative Writing for the University of Liverpool, Edge Hill University College and the Workers Education Association. He is the Managing Editor of Poetry Kit; more information about Jim is available HERE.

In November 2004, Jim Bennett was asked to read his poetry for the Royal visit of
HRH The Prince Edward to NWDAF Headquarters, Liverpool. L to R: Susan Hedges,
Jim Bennett, HRH Prince Edward (photo by Leila Romaya).


Sunday, May 22, 2011



I am a Korean-American adoptee who was adopted to Boston, MA as an infant. This is similar for my two adopted siblings. I grew up in the Boston suburbs in a predominantly Caucasian society. This has really shaped the person I am inside, the person I think I am when not reminded of who I am on the outside. Both my middle and high schools boasted high numbers for diversity in the student body (high in the private school circuit), although there were few people like me. I became a thinker as I grew up and always took adoption very seriously.

I had the opportunity to travel to Seoul through Global Overseas Adoptee Link (G.O.A.L.) in the summer of 2009, which provided me with a glimpse as to what it's really like in South Korea. It also gave me a chance to meet other Korean-American adoptees, which in turn exposed me to the vast difference of situations and perspectives that exist within the Korean-American adoptee community, something I had previously never thought on.

Overall, I consider myself always one face of Korean-American adoption, which means I represent a community. That gives me a lot of pride. I spent some years when I was young thinking that being an adoptee made me less than, however as I grew older I realize that being an adoptee was the thing that made me a lot more interesting than everybody else; it was something that I could claim as my own.

Peter Boskey



The nature of adoption leaves a lot of room to dream, a lot of brain-space. I've been told my poetry deals a lot with the cerebral ongoings on the mind, is very feeling heavy, and normally has some sort of outward turn into something tangible. But because there is so much left to wonder about, so much left to want, there is also that hope in my poems. I've made very strong efforts to maintain a sense of contentment in the subtext of my poetry, although at times it is lost in the back-burner. That, though, is really essential for anybody who tries to understand an adoptee poetry perspective; it has multiple layers that constantly battle to be heard. I've found that stylistically, I go between using a tight poetic format that is both language and sound heavy, but I also love the freedom in a prose format, and often times those poems feel more natural and represent a stream of consciousness.

Adoption also plays a role in how I relate to characters within poems. I like the facelessness and ambiguity of using, "you" and "I," rather than name the specific people. Accepting that sometimes there are no specific people that drive a poem is similar to the acceptance that being an adoptee means not knowing, "who." And I mix that theme with other human-centric ones such as physical touches, hands, and the intricacy of relationships.




Mai Engrlish ees no goot,
I imagine people think I sound this way,
not realizing that when I do speak,
Bostonian-undertones swell and mix sweetly
with the speech of a southern boy I loved.
He was white.
My yellow fingers laced with
perpetual white ones--
I will marry a white man;
to my mother’s unspoken pleasure.

I am always the son my parents wanted,
so I’ve been told;
they tell my brother this too.
Perhaps we are two halves
of a mirror-child my parents could never make.
I don’t have my mother’s blonde hair
or my father’s blue eyes.
Mine are of another people,
strangers I may never know.

I think my sister’s strangers are far from her heart,
while mine feel so close,
leaving ghost handprints on the fogged door,
an afterthought;
like when we make it halfway down the driveway
and my mother forgets if the stove is on or off;
I am the one to run inside to check,
passing that fading handprint
that looks almost like mine.

There are 50,062,000 people in South Korea.
Should be 50,062,003, or more,
for the other exports like my sister and brother,
and me.

Going on 30 Hours

Words are an easy remedy to un-worded thoughts that billow through my mind, whirlwinds and tempests of touch-and-go logic. When my hands see cramps in their future, like the oncoming and ongoing sunrise and set; I wonder if I will sleep tonight, and wake on the other side of tomorrow a spot more complete than yesterday. Perhaps I may actually smile when I rise... The routine of rest and laying my head on the same pillowcase I used as a child, the echoes and parallels of immature tribulations now in an older rendition; still I am without a take-home message, other than I am just not getting something. Some secret to sleep, to closing my eyes, to pretending I am sleeping until I find myself rising with the sun hours later; the secret written in words, spoken in language un-synced with my vernacular, my speech. An utter disconnect with the reality I reach out to touch and hold like mockingbird, singing softly archaic melodies, haunted by constant migration.

            They rest, don’t they?



Peter Boskey is a university student studying design in Upstate New York. He has been described as, "creative," "thoughtful," goofy," "an enigma," and "a typical Taurus." Adjectives aside, he enjoys spending time pondering, observing the world's on-goings, writing, and watching copious amounts of television. Favorite shows are Glee, Grey's Anatomy, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, and Ghost Adventures. In his free time, Peter makes earrings from sterling silver and precious metal gemstones.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011



I was adopted at the age of three months. I have a younger brother who is also adopted from different birth parents.

My husband is the father of two adopted children, one of whom was adopted from Korea. Technically, I am their stepmother, although they were already adults when we met.

My husband and I have two biological children as well.

I have reunited with both my birth mother and my birth father, and have met all but one of my biological half-siblings.

To summarize, it's complicated! Rather than explain any more here, I would rather speak about my experience through my writing.

Karen and her son



I find a great deal of my writing explores aspects of my adoption experience, whether or not I set out intending to write about adoption. My condition of being adopted has affected every aspect of my life, therefore it colors all of my writing. I feel like I see the world--particularly relationships--through a different lens than that of people who are not adopted. Sometimes it's difficult for me to express that difference in prose. Poetry gives me a way to more clearly communicate my experience as an adopted person.




with your mother's wide eyes,
olive skin and old-world customs,
with cousins akin to sisters

with your father's gravelly voice,
his cleft branded on your chin,
his surname on your back

You cannot conceive what I saw
when I studied my boy
lying bundled like a burrito
innocently twisting in the plastic hospital bassinet

I gazed into a mirror
and saw my gray eyes for the first time
and saw my milky skin for the first time
and saw my Slavic nose for the first time
and saw my earnest expression for the first time

For the first time I saw
my mother and my father
my tribe
my birthright

For the first time
I saw my self

Birth Name

Google search tells me I am unique
just like they always say to kids
"there's only one like you"
turns out it's actually true
and all this time I felt like a carbon copy
now the lines around my eyes are zebra stripes
I am a reality star in my own life
babies call me Mom and
Mom calls me Daughter and
Mother calls me Honey and
Honey calls me Love
but if you search my name
on Facebook you'll find just one



Karen Pickell writes poetry and creative nonfiction on adoption and other topics. She is pursuing a Master of Arts in Professional Writing with a concentration in creative writing from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Her essay "An Ordinary Difference" is included in the charity anthology Oil and Water . . . and Other Things That Don't Mix.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011



[Curator’s Note: Penny Callan Patridge wrote a book, THE PEOPLE THEY BROUGHT ME: poems in the adoption community, which happens to address the three questions asked by POETS ON ADOPTION (albeit in a slightly different format from the typical PoA contribution). With her permission, we feature four excerpts from her book.]

I. For My First Mother / Catherine in Cheyenne

For My First Mother

No photograph but a dream
brought me your face.
We were in your living room
which was also a kind of shop
where you sold furniture.

It was in front of the fireplace:
this chair which I can still see
along with your face. It was
mahogany and wine red velvet:
a rocker.

Days after the dream
I still know
that I was to have it
and think I can after all
if I can translate.

I think it was good            love
your arms            binding me
your face            smiling and I was
unsure            afraid            embarrassed:
I was new.

And if an old woman knocked on my door and called me
Dorothy, it would be like a river rushing backward
to rejoin the water with which it had risen in mist
and settled on leaves upstream
before coming down in separate drops.

It would be like a movie running backward
me moving backward through it blindly:
I would have to learn you by smell
and touch, like a baby, before
I could finally see your face.

Picture in a magazine:
the adopted child of (someone)
and me wondering if just somehow
the other mother might see it: me
wanting to get myself into the paper.

I have written this, you see,
to push myself out
toward some meeting with you
if you are ready
if you’re still there.

Catherine in Cheyenne

This may be my most magic poem in that it really did push me out to meet my birthmother. I had briefly tried to find her in my early twenties. That ended with a social worker’s insistence that I would not want to meet the woman who had given birth to me, because it would cause her too much pain.

In my late twenties, in my own pain about infertility, I decided that if my children were not going to look like me, I would try to find someone who did in my original family. So I searched, on and off, for two and a half years. It was often hard to take the next step. It might lead nowhere. I would get discouraged and put the whole thing aside until the not knowing became too hard again.

Then came a dream that brought my birthmother into focus like never before. There we were, face to face for the first time, even if it was “just a dream.” She was smiling and completely reassuring that it was all right to have found her. When I woke up, I was desperate to hold onto the new “reality” this dream had brought me. It was hard to believe I could have produced this dream, even unconsciously. It must have come from her!

I tried to write down every fragment of the dream I could possibly remember. Its two main images were my birthmother’s face and a lovely rocking chair she was giving me. It was a nice big, comfortable rocker that would have held me, rocked me, comforted me. I got obsessed with the chair for awhile and imagined combing antique stores to see if it just happened to be waiting for me to come buy it. That would confirm the “realness” of the dream. But what if I had to settle for one that wasn’t mahogany? Wasn’t a rocker? Wasn’t upholstered in deep red velvet? Would I settle for something less? In the end, I realized that the face and the chair were symbols of the same thing: the gift of my birthmother’s welcome. I gave up on the chair and went out to find the face.

Meantime, I worked and worked and worked on the poem. I’m going to quote William Butler Yeats here, because years later, when I read the following, I knew just what he’d meant.
My friends that have it I do wrong
whenever I revise a song
should know what issue is at stake:
It is myself that I remake.

No question about it. While writing “For My First Mother,” I was remaking myself. I was spending days pushing myself out, or giving birth to a me who could confidently move out and not only find Catharine but also be up to facing her.

And only a few weeks after I had the dream and wrote the poem, I was calling her. I was hearing her say, “Oh, I knew this would happen. Would you like to come visit me?” Three weeks after that, I was pulling up in front of her house in Cheyenne.

What link is there between having the dream, writing the poem, and finding my birthmother? Did I have the dream because I was ready to find her? But if I hadn’t grabbed onto it hadn’t worked on the dream/poem as hard as I’d ever worked on anything, would I have gone on to find her?

If the poem made me brave, I was not very brave with the poem. In the three weeks between finding and meeting Catharine, I sent her “For My First Mother.” But I actually wrote to her not to make too much of it.

Why did I belittle its importance? I was probably protecting both of us from how badly I wanted Catharine to like this poem, to “get it”—and of course to like and “get” me. And she followed my lead (unless I was following hers in the no-nonsense, Western way she spoke). Neither of us ever mentioned the poem again!

If I could speak to Catharine now, I might ask if we could talk about the poem I had written right before I found her. Do you remember what you thought of it? How you felt when you read it? I was afraid I would scare you with how much I wanted your welcome, your acknowledgement. I might also have been scared of having “to learn you by smell/ and touch like a baby before/ I could finally see your face”—of going back to the baby me.

Had we talked about the poem, we might have gotten closer than we did in the fifteen years we had of knowing each other. But I think the poem expressed something I wasn’t up to saying—nor she up to hearing—in person. “For My Mother” thus served a much more typical purpose for a poem than to help find a lost person. It helped me say something the only way I could.

II. New Legs / Nina Giving Birth Under It


I choose grief
that river
that takes you

Like when Charlie said
it must be hard not
to know the person
you were born to.

And off I swept
both hating him
and loving him
for saying it.

Thrashing upstream in
anger to come
swirling down
in sadness.

And bumped
against the bank
to climb out
on new legs.

Where would I
still be
but for that river
and these new legs

from Nina Giving Birth Under It

“New Legs” was written by request. The director of an adoption agency in California had heard me read my poems at the Open Adoption Conference in Traverse City, Michigan. When her agency was planning an issue of their quarterly magazine to be entirely from the perspective of the adopted, she called to ask if I would write a poem for them, maybe about one of the seven core issues of adoption.

I liked the idea of an adoptee issue of a magazine. It’s a good thing if we grow up hearing about our adoption, but that is necessarily from someone else’s point of view. One of the most important things we ever do as adopted people, I think, is to learn to tell our stories from our own perspective. I liked that some of us older adoptees could serve as models for doing this. And it was time for other “players” in adoption to hear more from the adopted.

The seven core issues* were developed as a way to talk about issues common to all sides of the adoption triad: the adopted, their birthparents, their adoptive parents. And the seven issues I had to pick from? Loss, rejection, guilt and shame, grief, identity, intimacy and control.

I chose grief because I had a story I needed to tell about it. Twenty-five years earlier, my friend Charlie had said something that spun me around like a leaf in a stream. His response to hearing I had been adopted was to say, “It must be hard not to know the person you were born to.”

Such mixed feelings about his having said that! Why hating Charlie? Because if what he had said were true, it was scary. I didn’t know if I could bear never knowing my birthmother. Nor did I want to go through life with the disadvantage, the blindedness, of not knowing her.

Then why loving Charlie? Because as hard as it was to hear what he said, it felt true. I was grateful that someone in this world wasn’t afraid to say it: It is hard not to know the person you were born to. My joy, my gratitude, my relief in having this acknowledged was probably what let me give in to the grief.

Grief is so paradoxical. We have to let it sweep us off our feet—thrashing upstream in/ anger to come/ swirling down/ in sadness—if we are to end up more oriented in our lives walking on our own two legs. Losing control to gain control. The river metaphor just popped into my head to help me make sense of this paradox.

Here is another paradox: “New Legs” was written by request. I got a long distance call and agreed to try to send something by a certain date. In the end though, I don’t think any poem of mine has come from a deeper place. I’m glad I got to go there.

(* The seven core issues of adoption were first presented by Deborah Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan (now Roszia).)

III. Another Pinocchio / My Funny Florentine


the girl was wooden
with so many strings attached
she was good good good
but that's about all

so the way for
her to get real
was to go out and find
her own blue fairy

in a small round woman
(her eyes were blue)
who said I knew
you would come

I just couldn't
see you before
or I would have
had to keep you

and the girl in this
blue eyed mirror
that held her
and held her

could see and feel
her own fingers

My Funny Florentine

I met Anna Gennie Miliotti at a conference near Disneyland in Southern California. I wish I could say that I went on the Pinocchio ride with this Italian from Florence, but I think it was closed for repairs. And I can’t really say I met Anna simply because of my Pinocchio poem. It’s more complicated than that. But the bonds between Anna and me certainly include Florence. That’s where the Italian language came from, thanks to Dante Allighieri. That’s where I studied it myself when I was in college. Florence is also where Anna was born. It’s where Carlo Collodi was born and where he wrote about Pinocchio. It’s where Anna and I have done two bilingual readings, the ore recent one just down the street from where Collodi grew up. I’ll get back to that.

There are many things in the Pinocchio story which adopted people find interesting. There’s that unforgettable representation of being caught in a lie. There’s the lonely old man who wanted a child. There’s the child who isn’t real but wants to be. There’s the woodenness, the strings, and the pulls between needing to be almost too good and needing to try being bad.

What matters most to me about the Pinocchio story is transformation. A puppet goes from being numb and dumb (no feeling, no voice), with strings attached (someone else pulling them), and not a real boy . . . to being real. I sensed a similar transformation in myself after I found my birthmother. There was more sensation in my body (that I was aware of). There was a feeling of my life now being in my own hands. And it felt as if, after dangling in some kind of unreality, I had ground under my feet. I am not saying I shouldn’t have been placed for adoption. I am convinced that was a good thing, under the circumstances. I just felt so much more real without a painted background hiding things behind it. Now I had a real background!

When Anna and I met near Disneyland (and again a couple weeks later in Traverse City), we were both writers, we were both adoptive parents, and she could speak enough English and I enough Italian that our conversations could rock back and forth between the two languages. Soon we were translating each other’s poems. “Another Pinocchio” was the first poem of mine that Anna transformed into a poem in her own language.

The first time Anna read “Un Altro Pinocchio” in public was in Parma, home of parmesan cheese and prosciutto. She was giving a talk to 300 adoptive parents, and she ended with her translation of my poem. By the time she got home to Prato (half an hour north of Florence), Anna had an e-mail from an adoptive mother who had just asked her oldest child about his favorite storybook character. This woman was amazed (che stupor) when he had immediately answered, ‘Pinocchio.” She now hoped her whole family would be gently (piano piano) unhooking strings.

The first poem I translated of Anna’s was “Nadezhda”—the name of her daughter Dasha’s birthmother. Anna had taken Dasha back to Russia to see where she had come from and many poems came from that trip. Later, Anna wrote a young adult novel about the experience, alternating the voices of an adoptive mother and her daughter. It has been quite a best seller in Italy—28,000 copies in the first year alone. During my most recent visit to Anna, I translated three chapters of The Me I Don’t Know (Quello che non so di me) so Anna’s agent can try for an English edition.

When Anna and I are together, we laugh a lot. Anna likes to enjoy life. Like many Italians, she loves good food. She tends to exclaim a lot over food, whether she has cooked it herself or is in a lovely restaurant overlooking a distant landscape. Anna loves to be dramatic. After we did our first reading together in Florence, she told me my Italian had never been so good and that I had learned Italian forty years earlier just for this one evening.

We have had great adventures together. We took a train from Albany to Kansas City for a conference of the American Adoption Congress. My bunkbed in our sleeper car was so tiny I couldn’t roll over. We made a pilgrimage out of Dublin up to Brugh na Boyne. WE twisted our hips to thread ourselves down a dark passage into the prehistoric past inside a mountain. The next day Anna drove us down to St. Kevin’s monastery in Glendalough, while I read poems to her by Seamus Heany and Eavan Boland, my favorite Irish poets. I may have ancestors who were in Ireland a thousand years ago, but Anna is sure she was in Ireland herself in another life.

Last May, Anna picked me up at the Pisa airport and drove me to her second home—this one in a medieval hilltown called Roccatederighi. Two days later we were on a train to Florence, me still copying Anna’[s translation of some of my performance piece, “Pandora Out of the Box.” Organized by Anna, and hosted by Libri Liberi (Liberated Books), we were giving a joint reading in a children’s theater next to a garden behind this fabulous bookstore. On an outside wall of the theater was an original Andrea del Sarto fresco. Inside the bookstore was an exhibit room for illustrations for children’s books. The current exhibit had to do with children all over the world liking Pinocchio. Then I was reading my Pinocchio poem right down the street from where Pinocchio’s author had been a boy. Grazie, Carlo Lorenizini (Collodi’s original name). Grazie, Vittorio and Elisabetta, owners of Libri Liberi on Via San Gallo. Grazie, Anna.

IV. Responding to a Poem by Mi Ok Bruining / Me and Mi Ok

Responding to a Poem by Mi Ok Bruining

This Korean-born adoptee
is translating herself
back into Korean
so she can greet her omoni
and even if only in fantasy
feel she is getting across.

This Korean-born adoptee
once hated this white bread
California-born adoptee’s
using cibultural
as metaphor.

But Mi Ok, even though
I had no ocean or border
or linguistic barrier
to get across, I was
still trying to figure out
how I’d been translated.

If I grant you many differences,
will you grant me this one
sameness? That we are not
as much from either side as
we are those who translate
are those who are translated.

Me and Mi Ok

Maybe a dozen years ago, I was standing outside the Food for Thought Bookstore in Amherst, Massachusetts. My eye had been caught by an anthology of writing by feminists of color. I went inside and asked if I could take it out of the window.

Soon a poem had taken me off a shelf. No longer in the store, I was now a Korean-born adoptee trying out some of her birthmother’s language as a way of getting back to the woman herself. “To Omoni, in Korea” might have reminded me of my own poem, “For My First Mother.” Each of these poems was a bridge built to take the poet back to her original mother—and even if only in fantasy/ feel she is getting across.

But I was also remembering the poet herself and her anger. Mi Ok was once in the audience as a I gave a presentation at a conference. I was looking at how the memoirs of bicultural people had helped me look at my experience as an adopted person. I had found mirrors of my experience in Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory, in Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation, in Paul Cowan’s Orphan in History. I felt I had learned from these books (and others) about taking back a lost part of yourself and integrating it back into your life.

To Mi Ok, I might have had losses through adoption; but they had not been increased exponentially by the additional losses of country, culture, and language, or by the additional burdens of racial difference and racism. I had not grown up as the only person of my race in my family and my town. I had not been asked by photographers to open my eyes “wider,” as one of Mi Ok’s poems recounts. I know Mi Ok’s anger during the workshop was less about me than about how little she felt understood in terms of the isolation, the dislocation and the differentness she had experienced in her adoption,.

It was my happening upon Mi Ok’s poem in Making Face, Making Soul that returned us to conversation begun two or three years earlier. I wrote “Responding to a Poem by Mi Ok Bruining” and sent it to her. She wrote back. In fits and starts, we have been in communication ever since.

With Mi Ok’s permission, I once proposed to our mutual social work alma mater that they publish “To Omoni, In Korea” alongside my poem responding to it. Those poems together in the school’s journal would have made our conversation public again (like our exchange at the conference) , and I thought this would be a provocative and educational read for social workers. Because my proposal was turned down, I now wish I had suggested pairing “To Omoni in Korea” with “For My First Mother.” At least that would have shown two adoptees both moving toward their birthmothers—one in a combination of English and Korean, the other in the language of dreams.

About ten years after I wrote “Responding,” I wrote another poem with Mi Ok in it. In “The Adopted Woman Reads an Obituary,” I was again connecting thoughts about a multicultural person—in this case Czeslaw Milosz, the subject of the obituary—with adoptee experience. The following stanza is one of nine:
I can’t even read the Times
without musing adopted.
Like the death of Czeslaw Milosz
who did translation
but thought you could write true poems
only in your other tongue.
So where does that leave the
adopted who come from Korea
but grow up in English?
Can your mother tongue be
your adoptive mother’s tongue?
Isn’t Mi Ok Bruining
a powerful poet in English?
But look how she incorporates
Korean. The adopted can
surely appreciate this
mixing of two mother tongues
more than anyone.

Mi Ok responded to my obituary poem by sending me a fable she had written about an Irish-American adopted by Asians. This twist to the usual transracial adoption story still leaves me relatively speechless. Is that because it forces me (Irish-American, no less) to imagine myself growing up with Asian parents? Is it because I read this fable partly as the European-American mother of an African-American son? Am I vicariously overwhelmed by the task Mi Ok has taken on: overturning what people are used to, widening their mental horizons, helping them see things in completely new ways, helping them see hard things? Yes to all that and more.

I have apologized to Mi Ok for my silence, but I am sure Mi Ok knows silence can have many causes. Applause, for example, can be merely polite while a silent audience can mean a spell cast that no one wants to break. Silence can mean a nerve has been touched. It can mean awe. On the other hand, if my ongoing conversation with Mi Ok has taught me anything—yes, and if poetry has taught me anything—it’s that words we don’t have today may still come to us over time. So we can keep responding to each other.



Penny Callan Partridge says, “I grew up as an only child in a closed adoption. After high school, I was an English major at Stanford and then a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria. Encouraged by an aunt (now a hundred years old!), I went to the Smith College School for Social Work to become a clinical social worker. My first husband had been my teacher there. He was a widower with a little girl, whom I adopted.

“Not long after that, I co-founded Adoption Forum in Philadelphia. That was in 1973. In 1976, I met my birthmother; and in 1980, I became President of the American Adoption Congress. In 1986, another husband and I adopted our son in an open adoption. Nathan has grown up knowing his birthmother and brother.

“Meanwhile, I had always—even before I could read and write—liked poetry. This was helped by my adoptive mother's obviously relishing it as she read or recited it to me. But my mother was enthusiastic about a lot of things. It was poetry that reached out and grabbed me. I was close to sixty before learning that, through my birthmother, I am probably related to the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh.

“Poetry has connected me to myself and, especially, to my experience(s) as an adopted person. It has also connected me in amazing ways to other people. I tell some of my best stories about this in THE PEOPLE THEY BROUGHT ME. As someone who spent the first weeks of my life with no mother there, I am very grateful for this community we've been building for anyone affected by adoption.”


Monday, May 9, 2011



An experience in four parts, none of them involving an actual adoption within our family.
1. When my boyfriend (later spouse) and I unintentionally conceived our daughter in very difficult circumstances, including poverty and my multiple disabilities and health risks, we briefly thought of adoption. We didn’t want to lose her. We decided instead to do whatever it took to raise her, together. And we did.

2. Not wanting to risk another pregnancy that could easily endanger me and any child I might conceive, I had a tubal ligation at 27. At 30 I had a complete hysterectomy because of severe endometriosis. My spouse and I debated long and hard about adopting a so called “hard to place” child but we didn’t go through with it.

3. I worked for a time as a maternal child welfare social worker. I counseled pregnant women, and conducted foster care and adoptive homestudies, supervised placements, and worked with adult adoptees. My endometriosis diagnosis and hysterectomy happened in the midst of this work.

4. In college, our daughter became unexpectedly pregnant. She considered placing her baby for adoption but decided to parent him, finally, as a single mother, a white woman raising a son of African as well as European ethnicities. My husband and I are very involved in raising our grandson.

After all this, I am not categorically opposed to adoption. For some women and children, it can be a constructive, loving decision. If the birth mother is not pressured by the denial of necessary resources for parenting or anyone who feels her pregnancy “disgraces” them. If she can choose the adoptive family and the degree of openness. If the loss it represents for her and other birth relatives is recognized and honored. If she is not slutshamed or excoriated as a bad irresponsible mother or branded as one without spiritual integrity.

I am aware too that in some situations, adoption is necessary to protect children from abuse and neglect. And of course there are orphans. But no should assume that a woman is unfit to parent simply because, for example, the pregnancy was unintended or if she is not married, poor, disabled, and/or of color.

The child welfare system in the U.S. often treats adoption as a “meat market” that privileges able-bodied white babies and presents older children, children of color, and children with disabilities as “economy models” or “damaged goods.” It often shuts out prospective adoptive and foster parents who have lots to offer children but are deemed “unworthy” because they are of color, have disabilities, have low/modest incomes, and/or are LGBT. This really needs to change.



I have only started to write poetry that draws upon these experiences, so I am not sure yet. I am struck, though, by how much anger and love surface when I do write on this subject. I hope the anger is in the service of the love.




As I finger the soft $10 in my tightening jeans pocket, my belly spills out a shredded lilac cotton blouse with its fake pearl buttons, swells a half step ahead of my hiking boots that pant their old tongues and stumble past bus stop after bus stop.

At the grocery store parking lot, I back accidentally into a shock of a bumper sticker, stark black background, words the same fluorescent yellow of crime scene tape: ADOPTION NOT ABORTION

and I strongly want to accost who's absent from that bumpersticker’s driver’s seat: Hey you! Just where else do you imagine we are not going? We, my sentient sl*tty self and my already thumbsucking, somersaulting b*st*rd baby whose life I guard fiercely with my worndown own?

Inseparable from conception, inseparable at future birth, we are traveling already to, through, over, despite the cracked, hard, shifty public commons made visible audible textural of this broken city sidewalk.

Traveling the alternative reality of _____________ NOT ABORTION, that nameless thin line, that thin ground-level ledge, that splintering plywood plank over pestilent sewers that could drown us both if I twisted an ankle.

Reality that is not “natural law punishment” for “fornication,” punishment the dreaded unwed can expiate only through some raw sacrificial wound of unchosen pried-forever-shut adoption to Perfect Rich White Chreeshtians in the Suburbs.

Reality that results from sly sadistic human agency, i.e., is coldly manmade, is completely classifiable under stuff that doesn’t have to be this way this way at all.

Why couldn’t ours be a sure lush path via parkways of fragrant green grass? Why not at least the quarters for a bus seat when I am simply too tired to slog us out on my own two swollen feet?

But I do not lie in wait, do not heft any hammer, do not even jab out an unsigned letter to snap under the windshield wiper. I have no hammer, I have no paper or pen yet, I have no patience for anything this day but the slow building up of our reciprocal intertwined survivals.

I just curve us right past the store’s electric eye which parts the door for us as much as for anyone “legitimate.” Curve us towards the bin of half-bruised apples, the post-Passover matzohs at 90% off, the tubs of generic unnatural peanut butter.

Towards the additive-ridden, the out-of-season, the deeply discounted—from which I create both of us. My belly spills out the shredded lilac cotton blouse, shifts our concentric centers of gravity forward into what we always will make up together as we go along.

Bigger and better than what that bumpersticker could provide for us, towards everything it didn’t even begin to have the right words for.


Plastic wrapped sandwiches and burnt sorry coffee in the dilapidated beige conference room with the stained orange chairs allotted us: the local maternity and adoption workers convene for our monthly lunch we pay for out of our thin salaries.

Thin because we are all supposed to have “good-provider” husbands or live out an ascetic asexual professional-woman singlehood? So what does this make of my attempted equal-rights life with my good loving man of a grad student also grossly underpaid alternative school teacher spouse?

Pagers all set on in case a maternity ward summons us into volunteer mandatory overdrive: four crisply critical women in tailored suits talk overlaps re: the latest scandal of the broadcast news. The family cap, the family cap, how badly needed, our clients on welfare have babies just to get the extra money.

All decree except me, in my colorpatch woven Nepali on sale vest, that my boss just reprimanded as not stodgy enough for your job. All decree as I listen in shock, and wilt down, and wilt down, into a roil of unvoiceable shame and rage for those dissed and denied mothers just about one or two vests away from where I live. Don’t they know family caps will cap and cut families through more abortions?

As I struggle to pull my lips teeth larynx into enough order to speak, they careen onto their next judgment: So this woman who has nerve damage, who has constant pain, SHE wants to adopt from our agency, can you believe it?! They purse their lips wildly, shake their heads NO! extravagantly—until I wobbily jump to my uneven feet and splutter out You would… then, never…allow… people disabled as me… adopt.

And rush my rage loudly through the bathroom door I let slam as final punctuation. I stand pale shuddering nauseous before the mirror. Listen to the broken toilet that runs its random endless torture music whenever I run my lopsided self in here to hemorrhage out the unbalancing clots of my purported “barrenness.”

Intone out loud but not too: You effin family cappers.

But I stave off vomiting, because I need to hold onto that sandwich and coffee. Especially since my pager could go off at any minute, and then what then?


So often when
I push my grandbaby’s stroller,
I flash on you
and pray for you,
the couple in the album
of the agency
our expectant-in-college
daughter glanced off:

your doubly open—
one brown one rose—
smiling woman faces,
the clean, bright blue,
empty at-the-ready
backyard playground set behind you,
tucked next to your “Dear Birthmom” letter
with its longing sweeps
of flawless, invitational calligraphy.

And I pray that
your child is now
materialized to romp and sing
through that heart’s
investment of a playset.

And I thank Jesus
that we raised a daughter
who would think to ponder you,
to offer you a fair shake
at the rightful family you seek.

And I thank Jesus
that your child is not
the same child as hers,
that you never knew in the slightest
about the one whom you lost:

our rosebrown grandson
who has just as much fun
on the scuffed gray swings
in the city park,
imitating raucous crow
and liquid cardinal calls
and carillon peals with me

as he oscillates up and down,
his Afro with the Celtic waves
billowing back and forth,
sleek with the shea butter
I learned to work into it myself.



Mary Krane Derr is a poet, writer, musician, eco-activist, and human rights advocate from Chicago. Her poetry has been nominated for a Best of the Web Award, Best American Poetry, and Best Spiritual Writing. She was featured at India’s 2011 Kritya International Poetry Festival. She has contributed to literary magazines in the U.S., Ireland, Great Britain, and India as well as anthologies like Hunger Enough: Living Spiritually in a Consumer Society (Pudding House).


Saturday, May 7, 2011



I am the adoptive parent of two children whom I had formerly fostered. My son, now 17, was officially adopted when he was five years old and my daughter, now 15, was adopted when she was seven years old. There was a lot of pain at the start because there was back and forth and the system, in my opinion, wasn't working with their best interest at heart. We have an open adoption with their birth mother and both kids have contact with their larger birth extended family. This has made their lives better. It has made mine more complicated. All of it is welcome.

Karen and her daughter



When observable themes have emerged in my writing, parenting is a huge one, but specifically parenting as an adoptive parent shines within that category. It is where I find much of my inspiration throughout the day, everyday, whether I am writing or not—as well as many opportunities for humility. That crossroad of inspiration and humility—of any kind—is a rich source of writing for me.



New Same Grief

She does not yet
share my curves.
Nor will she ever.

Another woman’s bodystory
best guesses when first blood
will engorge, trickle, then seep.
She will wear the echo
of some other woman’s body.
Its reverberation is the one
that chimes my daughter’s bodyclock
of egg drop, of bud burst.

It is the new same grief.
Like when I couldn’t name her,
she who came to me
two days past two
and quite already
the whole of her given name.

It is the new same grief.
Like when I had to reply
I don’t know
What was my first word?
When did I learn to walk?

I don’t know how come
she couldn’t be a live-with mommy?

Blood. Bone. Body.
These bounded things
that wither away.

My solace—
large enough,
and more:
though body
may forever
be mystery,
not she.
Not her love.



Karen G. Johnston is a social worker by vocation, a Unitarian-Universalist-with-Buddhist-tendencies by faith, a mother by choice, a socialist by inclination, a lay preacher by gift, and a poet by avocation. Her poems have been published in Concise Delight, Equinox, Silkworm, the Naugatuck River Review, Red Weather, and in the anthology, Women.Period (SpinsterInk, 2008). She lives in Western Massachusetts with her two teenage children, her soon-to-be husband, two dogs, a cat, and a growing vegetable patch.


Monday, May 2, 2011



It was 1996 when my friends Barbara and Ed, in their mid-40s and married the previous year, traveled to China to bring home their long-awaited infant daughter, Alex. This path to creating a family touched me to the core. By now the news stories were well-known about China’s one-child policy and all the healthy, relinquished baby girls there who needed homes. I was 41 and newly out of a relationship. Though I had never married, I continued to have, deep in my every cell, the craving to be a parent, to nurture a child from babyhood on. At the time, China was very receptive to older international adoptive parents. I saw China as my hope.

In 2000, I met my husband, Sandy—younger than I am by a few years and also never married—and in those giddy, early months together, once it became clear we wanted to become life partners, I raised the subject of adoption. The odds were not good that I would become a midlife miracle mother; IVF was not an option with my eggs. We could invest in a donor egg—in other words, we could adopt an egg—and thought about this seriously, but there was no guarantee a child would ensue.

In 2004, on a muggy August day in a municipal building in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China, just three days shy of our third anniversary, Sandy and I first held our 11-month-old, Caroline Xuzhen, in our arms. She was howling, and not just because she was frightened. She had a runny nose, a sore throat, and a rotten cough—plus, we would soon learn, a terrible case of constipation. As novice parents, that initial day with our daughter was kind of harrowing. She wouldn’t take a bottle, though she gobbled down a risotto-like cereal called congee. But the next morning was different. She woke up grinning—her whole face was glowing with glee. We taught her to call us “Mama” and “Dada,” and took it from there.



My love for my daughter and my appreciation of parenthood—especially later-life parenthood, because the parenting experience was so hard-won for me—have been recurrent subjects in my work. Gratitude has become an anchoring theme. Also, because I am a cross-cultural, transracial parent, I am well aware of the special responsibilities I owe my daughter. Global and multicultural matters are of particular interest.



Baby in a Basket
This infant was found at the gate of this institute by Miss Li Feng Er and brought in for foster care on 8/29/2003.…Our doctor decided her date of birth as 8/26/2003, according to her development. She was named Shang Guan Xu.… Shang is the initial of Shanggao [the town]. Guan is the middle name for all kids in this orphanage. Xu means the morning rising sun.
            —Shanggao Social Welfare Institute Child Development Status Report

We were ready, with these first photos, for you to be
Cute, but not to be beautiful—which smacked through us
Like a convulsion. We study your startled onyx eyes, alert
As birds at play in a pond, tawny embossed blossom
Of lips, fringe of hair a fluffy nimbus floating above you.

Four months old at the time these were taken, you sit snug
In an oval basket, so overbundled in layers of wool
Sweaters and leggings, you cannot move, your hands
Lost in the soft black tunnels of your vast jacket’s sleeves.
Our agency suggests we tell you a story from long before
You can understand: In China your Birth Mommy—who had
Held you curled inside her for nine months—and Birth Daddy
Loved you very much, but could not keep you, so they made
A plan. They wrapped you in blankets, set you in a basket,
And delivered you someplace safe, where they knew
Kind people would care for you until your
Forever Mommy and Daddy could take you home.

For now you sit, as the hours pass, in a worn metal
Crib, in a room wall-to-wall with cribs, each shared by two
Burbling girls, and here in our hands, propped up
In a basket, waiting for the slow, slumbering
World to turn your way. You are our morning rising sun.


We practice the language, froth of words, that formed
The slosh and current of your life before
You could speak: “Ni hao ma?” we greet our teacher,
Who passes out toys and asks us to repeat as she holds up flash cards:
“Panda”—xiongmao—followed by “baby,” “mother,” “father,” “dog,”
“Cat.” All of the girls in the circle, and the sole boy, are Chinese
Toddlers. Most of the mothers and fathers are middle-aged, white.

At summer’s close, we carried you down the blue-tiled steps
Of the synagogue’s bath—a swirl of piped-in rainwater,
Municipal water, and a bit of chlorine—and swiftly dipped you
Three times, the water snug to all your surfaces. At the top of the steps
A trio of rabbis chanted the blessings, calligraphied midnight
Blue on the pale blue walls. I recited along in a language I had never
Formally learned, some of the words and all the intonations familiar.

Little flame, you will be the birthright of who you are,
Independent of water or vocabulary.

We work on the words. That’s why in the post office, just a few weeks
After we had brought you home, when the Asian American clerk,
In her sixties, spotted you soaking up your new world
From your stroller, puckered up her face, then gazed again at me
And, with accented English, clenching my heart in her hands,
Inquired, “She’s yours?” I managed to answer, “Yes. And I’m hers.”

Why couldn’t she see I had become Chinese?

Old Mom
            For my daughter

As I wheel you and our purchases—toothpaste, Similac—toward
A register, our cashier murmurs to a colleague in a language
She thinks I don’t understand: “La abuela,” she says with certainty.

I am certain I will not be alive the day you turn forty.
You have just learned how to walk. Your unscuffed sneakers,
Glossy white with fuchsia stripes, crisp knotted laces flecked

With silver, flash hot-pink lights with each new step, as bright
As the sunshine in your face when you shuffle toward me—arms
Raised, holding your palms forward for balance—still amazed

You can locomote yourself with two extremities only, and alone.
And when I am indeed old, once you have clocked the hurdles
Of thirty and thirty-five, with more years ahead of you

Than behind, please also see me as I was that summer and fall
Once we brought you home, the way I would carry you,
A scrawny toddler who couldn’t toddle, couldn’t crawl,

Couldn’t grasp and deliver to her mouth a morsel of bread,
Ate like a just-hatched wren, from the palm of my hand.
Sitting on the rug, we’d practice a game with the slats

Of your playpen—your laugh a swift clinking of bells—
As I would encourage you “Up, up, up,” demonstrating a way
For you to lift yourself, hand over hand. Soon you were scooting

Along the furniture, then reaching for my index fingers,
Marching ahead with one in each hand, until you discovered,
With me by your side, you could walk on your own.

All three poems are from Immersion, © 2011, Michele Wolf. "Immersion" also was originally published in Crab Orchard Review and "Old Mom" in Poet Lore.



Michele Wolf is the author of Immersion (Spring 2011), selected by Denise Duhamel for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection, published by The Word Works. Her previous books are Conversations During Sleep (Anhinga Press, Anhinga Prize for Poetry) and The Keeper of Light (Painted Bride Quarterly Poetry Chapbook Series). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, Boulevard, North American Review, and many other literary journals and anthologies. Since 2002 she has taught at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She lives with her husband and daughter in Gaithersburg, Maryland, near Washington, D.C. Her website is http://michelewolf.com.