Here's a sample of my work. As an adoptee, I've spent considerable time in pondering my unknown family history, which has become a recurrent theme for me. I finally tracked down my biological relatives in 1997 and now have a terrific brother, many cousins and a more complete comprehension of myself. I wish it had not come so late, though.
My birthmom, Lillian, was dying of Alzheimer's when I found her, lying frail and alone in a nursing home bed. She was nonverbal and presumably unaware of my presence (though I like to hope otherwise). She passed away on January 1, 2000. As tokens of her existence, I received a small basket of imitation flowers, her winter boots (my exact size!) and a modest necklace of pseudo pearls. Lillian was an unpretentious woman who, I'm told, could dance lighter than the wind through evergreens. Her brother, John, played a wicked fiddle. As for me, I inherited the music too, but mainly through my singing voice.
Unfortunately my full-blood sister, to whom one of these poems is addressed, thus far has not wanted to meet me. Perhaps someday she will feel more comfortable about my existence. - Brenda
Brenda at age 22 (those were the days!) - Jeff Wilson Photo
Lillian Phalen, my birthmother, and her niece Elaine Marie Phalen, my first cousin. My birth name was also Elaine Marie Phalen. It was changed when I was adopted.
Jean Carver, my first cousin and the unofficial Phalen family 'historian' who figured out who I was. My birthmother, Lillian - her aunt - stayed with Jean for the last few months before Lillian was placed in a nursing home.
My coming was a red and ragged shout,
an outrush in iambic pause and push.
On the borrowed sheets a woman convulsed
like a jellyfish, beating wide and shut
as the waters rose. She heaved me, and I
guessed nothing of her sting – perhaps believed
in welcome, with a wrap of arms and light.
A stranger lifted me; the sun went out
of our window. Its flapping sacrament
curtained me from that place my mother knew.
As rain chased her daughter beyond the pale,
she sought only to wash away regret.
In half a century, her old birth throes
still halt and drop. No couplet at the close.
Unbraiding the Helix
Your filaments bound me tighter than nets,
veins looped in knot patterns. Then I grappled
the seawater rope with raw palms, your womb
a bell-buoy tossing just above my head.
Blood clots gathered like fishermen's children.
I, your undaughter, wore my coat of salt
and navigated the membrane channel.
You would not loose the blue umbilicus
that anchored us together, birthwoman,
but still you named me bastard when it broke.
Now you hang from me like a shell necklace
and softly rattle. I reach for your clasp
to free you with my prayer, as ocean winds
sing to the cliffs. Yes, I will pardon you,
my first mother, and sever this last cord.
For Winifred in Absentia
My sister of the air,
please playmate me tonight;
bend and let me catch your hair,
woven from wind and light.
Inside my head, I trace
your features, though unknown:
shape of shoulder, frame of face,
breast and brow and bone.
Years and our fates combine,
to blank out babyhood.
Come, sweet sibling, flesh of mine ---
our cords are bound in blood.
As a small child, I thought
I’d just imagined you;
now I know that I did not.
Your mother bore me, too.
Silence. I can expect
only the sky's regret.
Orion brightens to reflect
my salteye rivulet.
We cannot always live,
but I shall write about
you - so unlikely to forgive -
whom I must weep without.
A floral basket, woven tan and cream,
slumps on my shelf, its blossoms limp. All fake.
I brush their petals, idly lift and shake
them free from insect wings. Does plastic dream
of finger touch or sunlight? Not a beam
can penetrate this shadow. House-dust motes
drift close as grief. A scarf of powder coats
the claw-shaped mums whose leaves no longer gleam.
Her mind left first, long uninhabited;
the body chose to linger, railed away
from useless get-well cards and faux bouquet.
I stroked her hands and hair, caressed the grey,
then wept for what we could have been. Now dead,
she offers only flowers in her stead.
My lovely adopted daughter, Natalia, has just found her own birthmom -- under much happier circumstances. There are poems forming in my head, and they are brighter ones than I could ever have known for myself. What a joy for them both, and for me!
Natalia with Birthmom Jannette at Saint Francis Xavier graduation, 2006
All photos and poetry (c) Brenda Tate