Image Credit: Keagan Henman
The Big Ask
When the crumbs are swept from the table,
we think it generous to let the dogs eat them.
–Henry Ward Beecher, Life Thoughts
People do miraculous things.
Mostly, they don’t.
My friends J. and G. adopted
their colleague’s adopted daughter
when the colleague got sick
and died with great rapidity.
The colleague had no immediate relatives;
the girl had been born in China.
Like a development officer
at a college or a foundation,
the colleague would have preferred
to soften my friends up slowly,
but she had run out of time.
And, anyway, hospitals
believe in speed dating—
they can make a donor of anyone.
Tubes turn gasps into poetry.
Death, the ultimate coach
and editor, said, “Cut this, cut that.
Now make the Big Ask.”
Will you please love my child?
My friends knew the girl—
in fact, they were her godparents.
They had raised
two daughters and were looking
forward to their silver years
(golden ones are
for people with money),
but they stepped up, as we like to say.
The heart has a podium
and life is a speech.
When we adopted our son,
the DCFS worker insisted we
undergo a second background check.
She couldn’t understand why
an educated couple
who disbelieved in God
and whose own reproductive
equipment worked just fine
would adopt a child
with a significant disability.
She feared that we might
When I die, please put me
in a glass box and place it
in my son’s room
wherever that is.
I want to be near him.
I want to be just as powerless
as he once was and may
Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties.
Maybe despair is just a professor
babbling in French or Italian.
He’s so committed to his view
that he can see little else.
Or maybe it’s a politician
who takes the amygdala’s money.
The frontal lobes sit atop
a Dark Web operation.
It’s like a machine dispensing
candy, one bar after another.
Call it Almond Panic.
In the movie Last of the Mohicans,
which I cringed at the other night
though nonetheless kept watching,
adopted son, says to Cora,
whom Magua has abducted,
“You’re strong! You stay alive
no matter what occurs!
I will find you!” And he does.
I’m a sucker for rescue plots,
and Day Lewis slips
into his role the way mist
moves into a valley.
So, maybe I have it wrong.
Maybe the future will find my son;
decide, as I did, that it doesn’t
want to be the present.
In his version of our family
story, faith plays a crucial role.
Somehow I knew even if I had to get
myself out of foster care I’d see you.
I knew it because I could remember you
telling me you’d never let me feel alone.
And I always felt you in my heart,
even when I was being assaulted.
It took three years to extract him—
he might as well have been
in North Korea. This grown man
is so much hardier than I thought,
and I, his former “big brother,”
utterly foolish. Only now,
under strain, can I see the forest
through which hope must run.
Ralph James Savarese is the author of two books of prose, Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoptionand See It Feelingly, and two books of poetry, Republican Fathers and When This Is Over. A third collection, Someone Falls Overboard: Talking through Poems, is due out from Nine Mile Books in June. Written with Stephen Kuusisto, it follows the example of Marvin Bell’s and William Stafford’s book Segues. Savarese’s work has appeared, among other places, in American Poetry Review, Bellingham Review, Ploughshares, Seneca Review, and Southwest Review. He lives in Iowa City, IA.
Abandonment and neglect. Substance abuse. Alcoholism. Suicide ideation. These are subjects which are prominent in child welfare and foster care; on average, foster children remain wards of the state for two years. I asked: Why are these stories uncommon despite its longstanding presence? Why is the adage “education out of the system” the emergent path to adulthood? Why have I not found a safe space for these stories from educators, administrators, foster parents, biological parents, kinship placements, adoptees, and the fostered and unfostered?
There has to be a way to make that happen. That is what I’m looking at for this foster care series. The writings I aim to publish will take a variety of forms, including creative nonfiction, hybrid writing, poetry, fiction, visual and text-based. More importantly, they will come from voices which are undeniably unafraid to speak. If language can do that, I think we can get closer to reinventing our experiences; we’re not so different or alone at the end of the day. Send your writings on foster care to email@example.com. And keep speaking.