Content Warning: This poem addresses child trafficking and child laundering. This poem is based on true events. Reader discretion is advised.
His Name Wasn’t John
We play in his backyard Conquer the big rock Footholds covered in Light blue-grey lichen While he says Strange things To a five year old mind He talks of Africa He talks of memories: His parents still alive (Not the white couple inside) He says They brought groceries He says he didn’t always speak English Before the human trafficking, [I’m sorry] Adoption.
Thank you so much for reading this poem. If you found yourself moved, please consider liking, commenting, and/or sharing it with others. Truly, I am grateful for the time you spent reading my work. While you’re here, if this sparked anger in you as it did for me when I realized that this happened to a childhood friend of mine, please check out UNICEF’s page on child traffickingand consider getting involved with Save The Children.
This year I had planned to be in Savannah, Georgia at Bonaventure Cemetery spending today with you and Grandpa, preferably with my parents or one of my siblings.
You convinced me to keep writing when I wanted to give up.
You told me I could succeed.
You would have been 95 today. We celebrated our birthdays together: yours today and mine tomorrow.
At the time I thought it was weird that I didn’t have normal birthday parties. Instead, we had a big family dinner together on July 9th and then we’d do something together on July 10th. Sometimes whatever we did involved whatever children my family could scrounge together.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized this was a birthday party, just not the kind of birthday party most American kids have.
What I hadn’t realized was that every year you celebrated me being your birthday gift.
I was your surprise baby. Your impossible baby.
The story goes Mama was sick Mama didn’t know I wasn’t the flu A five month flu Impossible flu
Two kids to chase Two kids to follow
Too Sick, Too Tired Mama didn’t know I wasn’t the flu
Doctor came in the room Test Results Read “Impossible” She said
Ultrasound Boy’s Name Father and Grandfather Dreams Come True Finally The fourth with their name
Grandmother’s Birthday Too Early Don’t Be Born Baby — But Mama can’t stop me Born Just After Midnight July Tenth Belated Birthday Gift
But That’s Not A Boy
No One Agrees: Laraleigh – Laura No, Lo
Being born premature in 1989, my mother did not want to take baby pictures of me in an incubator where she could not hold me. She did not want to have pictures reminding her of what I looked like hooked up to a heart monitor and a ventilator with various IV bags flowing into me. She did not want to remember the hours and hours where she wandered around a hospital screaming because the nurses lost track of where they put me and forgot to tell her anything about my condition.
Seriously, you kids born premature after 1990 had way higher survival rates. One of the reasons my mom didn’t take baby pictures was because she was advised not to in case I didn’t live. That’s the sort of stuff women were told would be psychologically better for them in the 1980s. I swear my mother is one of the strongest women on this planet.
Because of this, I didn’t see a baby picture of me until I was 30 years old – this past February/March while visiting my parents. In the picture, I am almost 6 months old and my grandparents are holding me after my christening service at St. Matthews Church.
I didn’t see the photograph Until age 30 Grandmother and Grandfather hold me [The red brick of St. Matthew’s Church] Smiling- Laughing so hard Their faces blur
The only baby picture
Mama didn’t want to remember: Wires, tubes, monitors, screens
I don’t remember them either.
In my early twenties, I asked my grandmother for a picture of her and my grandfather for my birthday. I’m terrible at asking for anything, especially if it is something the logical part of my brain has deemed superfluous. What I didn’t expect was this.
It’s a picture of my grandmother and grandfather at Armstrong College in Savannah, Georgia. At the time, my grandfather, having just returned from World War II, was finishing up a Bachelors of Science in Meteorology. My grandmother taught chemistry. They fell in love with teaching, scientific progress, and each other.
They were the types of people that had trouble sitting still.
My grandmother was academically fascinated by her heritage. She honored her connection to the Douglas clan, but I would not call her proud. Often, she focused more on the deep connection it provided her to faith. Her expressions of spirituality changed so much even over the 27 and half years I knew her that it’s hard to say what she believed. What I can say is that she believed in showing endless love, patience, and understanding. We selected her favorite prayers and passages to include on the prayer cards.
What I want every person reading this to know is that though I have only spoken of a few moments, 91.5 years is a long time on this planet. Lillian danced through those years with a love of music, chemistry, objectivity, compassion, education, and love.
The last two gifts she gave me were her engagement ring and her last words.
My grandmother wanted to experience everything there was to experience on this planet. She liked to say, “Heaven Is Here On Earth.” She did not live an easy life – in fact, quite the opposite. Her life was by far full of emotional hardship.
The Last Memory
Restless loblolly pines We sit Dry docked green aluminum jon boat He laughs with goofy faces Old spice arms envelope me Binocular eyes
“That’s the Hale Bopp Comet” His voice is shimmering moonlight on bay water His presence is my father’s smile
He still wears that 1970s brown and tan puffer jacket A flare orange dog whistle on a braided leather cord I taste fried fish tails Bay water drains off the hull
My fathers hold me together The child meant to be the fourth with their names For that moment I belong
Together they point to stardust Teach me constellations How to find my way home If I am ever lost at sea
My grandfather died in 1997 in the doctor’s office while getting dressed after a physical. He wasn’t feeling well and in between classes he managed to get seen. He didn’t make it to his afternoon lecture. In October, he would have been 100 years old.
She never remarried, but she was not broken. She mourned the loss of her best friend and celebrated his memory every chance she got. My grandfather loved fill-in-the-blank style Hallmark cards and writing her love poems. What I didn’t realize until I was a teenager was that she kept all of them and read his words every time she missed him.
Now, I find myself doing the same thing, even with her final words. My birthday buddy can never be replaced. I will celebrate her 150th birthday in 2075 just as I celebrate her 95th.
They said she’d never play piano again Hematoma Right side CAT scan looks bad
We came to visit at the wrong moment Right moment The nurses couldn’t find the cell phone number They wouldn’t let us in the room
We’d spoken to her that morning We said we’d see her soon
You were out on the boat Knee high in male bonding Falling in love the only way Our family knows how
We finally got you on the phone But you never hung up
At 91 and a half You and I argued You insisted she was clear
We moved her to hospice We prayed she’d tell us that we were wrong
Later that night I sat alone with my other mother She squeezed my hand “I’m not ready”
She never spoke again.
As I conclude this memorial, I thank you for taking the time to be here with me. I recognize that it is not easy to be with someone in mourning. I recognize that it is increasingly unusual in America for people to grow up in a multi-generational child rearing situations where they and their siblings form these close bonds. Because of this, real family, the family that sticks by you and unconditionally loves you, will be my first priority in life for as long as I live. That’s what we were taught by our grandparents and our parents. I hope that this is a legacy my siblings and I can carry on.
With that, I close this with love to all members of my family.
“A good name is to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold” – Family Motto / Proverbs 22:1