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.

Monday, February 6, 2012



My husband and I love a good travel adventure, as long it involves plenty of hot sun, good food and a comfy bed. Not exactly good reasons for adopting a child, right? But an unexpected bonus when we adopted our son from Manila.

Frankly, we’re amazed more people don’t jump at the chance to bring home a child from the Philippines. The people are beautiful, articulate and gracious. Compared to more popular adoption countries, the Philippines is much less like a “foreign” place – just about everyone speaks English, and McDonald’s is outnumbered only by KFC.

Still, a 20 hour flight to Manila to meet your new son is a heck of a lot different than a 2 hour Funjet to Cancun for snorkeling. Luckily, our flight and the rest of our week was relatively hitchless (except for the huge snoring guy in the window seat). Once through customs, we were met by Ramon, escort extraordinaire: he was our tour guide, shopping consultant, keeper of the itinerary and occasional baby holder. In no time, he got us checked in at our hotel and arranged to take us to the orphanage in the morning.

First encounter: "our first kiss in Manila, at the Shalom Bata Rescue Centre"

In attempting to describe all the emotions bouncing through us during that van ride to Caleb, I think of Jodie Foster in the movie Contact, and that line she says during her trip through the wormhole: "they should have sent a poet." Except I was a poet, but utterly without words. All those months of forms and waiting and more forms and more waiting and expecting the worst and praying for the best and putting the focus of your entire life into a fuzzy 2 x 3 photo – it was so over and so worth it the second we saw our son that first time in that hot, sticky office. It still amazes me I didn’t cry. I always cry. But in that one moment I think we were all so completely terrified, thankful and overwhelmed. We’d probably still be standing there with our eyes wide open and our mouths wide open and our raw hearts wide open if Ate Shirley hadn’t plopped little Caleb into my arms. That instinct I swore I never had kicked in: I was “mom.”

It's been 11 years since. Jack is now 12 (going on 22) but we're still holding each other as tight. Every day since, we give thanks for the luck we have had and continue to have -- despite a speech delay, a stubborn streak that rivals Stonehenge and a new-found belief that his bio father was a Greek God making him a demi-god with some as yet unfound power I better not mess with -- the depth of my love for this pinoy boy is unfathomable.

Cathy and Jack



How has it not? My poor kid will be so freaky deaky mad at me when he is old enough to want to read my poetry. He knows he appears frequently in my work, but I'm a poet who puts it all out there - the good, the bad, the ugly. I documented much of that transition in Sweet Curdle (Marsh River Editions, 2006) but the process of adoption, being an "adoptive" mother, bearing witness to my son's growling emotions about being adopted continues to appear and transition in my work as we transition through life. The poem I share is one of the more recent works, as we now struggle with his desire to know more but not want to know more about his bio parents.




After I enter your birthmother’s name

Google asks if I mean Veronica but

that means truth and purity and I don’t want her

to be either. But when the truth of Veronilla

draws a blank

that paints your brown eyes blank,

I change to yes to search

a thousand Veronicas I know she is not,

to see your face bright as a minted penny.

I want you to find your history in other names,

Jack because god is gracious,

Caleb moved to the middle to keep you

       grounded by faith,

the missionaries bright meadow and determined,

your social workers honey bee and lively,

our chaperone, Ramon, a wise protector,

       how he rose early for us and saved his wife’s life,

       how he tells of you who watched over her.

You should know the irony of Cathryn meaning virginal,

you should know there are two fathers and this one is a rock,

but you don’t care yet how babies get here, only what happens after,

why some are left like broken toys,

if some get passed again, like sour milk or baseball cards.

I could search a thousand names and not find

the answer, so I shift your weight

and Google Espiritu, show you she is your Spirit

in every language,

meaning this woman as essence,

meaning this woman as courage,

meaning this name as guardian angel, as fire.



Cathryn Cofell is the author of five chapbooks including Kamikaze Commotion (Parallel Press). Additional poems and essays can be found in places like North American Review, New York Quarterly, Oranges & Sardines and Women. She is currently performing her poems with the musical duo Obvious Dog from their CD called Lip, and serving on the advisory board for Verse Wisconsin. More at www.cathryncofell.com.


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