Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Poems for Zi VI

I crave you, like water. 

When I'm so far away
from your touch and your laugh,
your full, serious cheeks,
the taut curve of your belly. 
I sit and replay your videos,
catch my breath at each smile,
marvel at the miracle of your fingers. 

On my worst days
they feel like cruel mirages,
pale shadows of your intensity,
mocking me with distance. 

I count the days
till I can curl you in my lap,
inhale the intoxicating scent of your scalp,
slake my thirst.

Breathe again. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Poems for Z - V

That day, I paused, rested,
curled up with you on the concrete floor.
I tried to memorize your every feature
the music as you dissolved into giggles.

I held the terrible weight
of knowing I, too, would leave -
as you, blissfully ignorant, diaper clad
nestled your tiny body up to mine
cradled between my knees and heart.

Your mother would have been so proud
Delighted in your chubby thighs,
your curiosity, your smile,
even your reticence,
your armor.

I do.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Poems for Z - III and IV

A gasp -
the perfect O of your lips
your chubby fingers outstretched
seeking my hands to hold you up
and grasping only air
a moment of shock
replaced by delight
as your troublesome feet,
to your surprise, catch you,
your eyes wide
with shock and delight.

You didn't know, did you?
That you could be so strong
that below the hump of your belly -
once taut only with worms
now layered with muscle and fat
your little legs
bowed but not broken
could catch you, bear your giggling mass
forward, out of danger
and into my outstretched arms.

I tell myself
that someday you'll read
these scraps salvaged
from tear soaked pillows,
wondering how my blood pumps
while my heart wanders outside my chest,
oceans away.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Easier, not better.

In response to Jenny:

I’ve told you before, years ago, on several occasions, how much reading what you’ve written has helped clarify my feelings towards my own depression, to remind me that if someone as incredible as you can be fooled by it sometimes, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure for not always being able to fight it as well as I wish I could.

Things are… interesting right now. All up in the air, soon to be literally – as-of-yet-unexplained illness, imminent continent move, imminent start to a program I’m terrified I won’t be smart enough for, and being on the other side of the world from the little girl I fell hopelessly in love with and plan to do whatever it takes to adopt. And when things are hard, I feel the ache of missing her that much more acutely, knowing that she’s in an orphanage wondering where I went, falling asleep alone in her crib and waking up alone. For now, though, there is nothing I can do to make her mine, and the only thing that will make her more likely to be mine later is to go to school, to do the work, to get established in a life so that if (when, please make it when) the law changes and/or I get married, I can give her the life she deserves.

And in the meantime I run my nonprofit, and we try to do the little things for all of the orphanage kids – first a well (wouldn’t have happened without your help, Jenny), now clean water (just completed the fundraiser, will install in December), next raising school fees for little Ericki, Dainess and Stevie to get them started out in the world. And I do it for them, partly, but I know I do it for me too, because the despair of being so far away from my Z is eating me up every day, and this way I feel a tiny, tiny, tiny bit closer to her.

Sometimes… often… I have moments where I wish I didn’t care. I think about what it would be like if I’d gone, and done the work, and come home, and not left a huge chunk of my heart behind in her tiny, sticky little hands, grown chubby from the spindly stubs they were when I arrived. I’d be free, now – planning my life in a new country, excited to move forward with my career, eyes on the horizon instead of looking back anxiously behind me.

It would be easier.

When I got there, she was so tiny and sick, too riddled with worms to gain weight or strength, unable at a year old even to crawl, her belly was so swollen and her arms and legs so thin. Then she got pneumonia. And her little system couldn’t fight it off, after her first round of antibiotics she still lay in the bed all day, little chest barely rising and falling, rattling like a stick was running up and down her protruding ribs. We went down to the hospital, the two of us together, and they confirmed that the drugs weren’t working. I held her while she bawled, as the technicians fumbled to try to find a vein in her immature, underformed arm. I rocked her and my tears mixed with hers and my sobs shook with hers and my heart beat with hers as they gave up and injected the first of many drugs, painfully, into her leg. I held her and stroked her and sang to her, both our tears all over my face, until she finally settled down to sleep on my chest, and I knew I would never be the same.

It would be easier if it had never happened. If I hadn’t pushed to go to the hospital, if she had gotten better or died, whichever it would have been, and neither would have been my story.

Instead, I throb with missing her every day, every time I see a child, every time a kitten stretches their neck out for a scratch under the chin, just like she did – does. I scribble poems into unpublished blogs to keep for her, one day, holding out hope that I will have the chance to make her mine, to tell her how much I've loved her, I love her.

It would have been easier. It wouldn’t have been better. Thanks for reminding me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Poems for Z - II

I can feel them
your soft chubby hands
drifting across my face
always searching
your squeal of glee
when I turn my head to nibble
on your delicious digits

That belly
round and tight as a drum
with a thin coating of fat
to reassure me
of how far you've come
from the gaunt infant
whose every breath made me tremble

You concentrate -
no time for games, this,
and bowed but never broken
you walk.

And is there any greater miracle?
The blessing of seeing you walk?

Your lips purse -
obstinate – you hoard
your giggles and smiles
for those who have braved the prickles.

And when they flash
those eyes, those teeth
joy radiating from my serious girl
my breath catches in my chest
as yours once did.

You've caught me.
Your soft, sticky, warm, chubby fingers
tangled my heartstrings
so that here, so far away
they pulse only for you.

Poems for Z

I arrive
pregnant with expectation
thrilled to start a new day
up the winding cliff face.
She lies still
on her cot, tiny chest
shuddering with the effort of each breath.

I lay
hand after hand
on her shrunken back
waiting for reassurance
as they feel the juddering
catching as she breathes.

They send us
as we are never sent
clutching red file under one arm
listless child in the other
dressed in her best
as if to show
our weakest at their greatest strength.

The doctor reads off her history
no birth date
and that hits me hard in the chest
zero October two thousand and nine
our tiny soul
pneumonia, malaria, suspected meningitis
and if they had been right!
no sweet babe in my arms.
Hold for observation.

She tests negative for malaria, no fever
and not a cringe when the needle
plunges through her paper thin
first percentile skin.

Blood filled with questions
painful suspicions squeezed ruthlessly
and without dissent
from her tiny fingertip

She is too small for chest scans
too young for an HIV test
so she is handed offhand
a prescription for antibiotics

Treat for pneumonia
Nothing else we can do.
For once first and third world agree
today we helped
but her prospects are not good.
Nothing else I can do.

Once a mother
in who knows what state
of agony or ecstasy
looked down and named her Zawadi. Gift.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


To hear it told, and I have, endlessly, I was born the serious, unsmiling, difficult child. I'll never match my brother's lightness, and every moment I spend next to him makes my feet heavier, roots unfurling into the ground. Even when left to myself, I ended up like a moth, drawn to your sunny smile, your carefree embrace of pleasure and life, the way you made me laugh. Reveling in the moments you made me feel weightless. But at some point something shifts, the drink that feels pressured, packing a bowl as soon as we get home, or before we can go out: the moments of passionate ambition that crumble to dust in the light of day, the moments of vulnerability that give a glimpse of the depth and rawness of your wounds, still, and the feeling of air on them makes you jerk away, shield them farther from me. I stand here, all my flaws in full view, painfully open for you, and it's too threatening to your cloak of sunshine to really see me. You flaunt your light as if to prove it to yourself, casting me into shadow by default. You ask me if I mind you having another drink, that if it bothers me you'll stop for the night, and I hate having to ask you, knowing that if left to your own devices, you'd keep going until you'd driven away all of the depth and intelligence that keeps me in love with you. And so go ahead babe, and I drove us home, and I laid next to you as you laughed, vodka soaked whispering in my ear, and I was alone.

So now I'm back home, without you, and my brother blows through the house, a whirlwind of blond hair and snatches of unexpected accents, picking up and shrugging off personalities like so many baubles, and my smiles tug at my inadequacy. But he hides no cavernous hollows, he's never had to darken me to lighten himself, and I'd love him with or without ambition, intensity, depth. We're yin and yang, but he never asks my permission, so I don't have to give it, and there's no pretense that we're balanced, and I don't know if it's better or worse, but at least here I know when I'm alone.