Image Credit: Irina Iriser
when we leave you for the last time
right away, we forget the look on your face,
for fear of burning down
everything we own
with your memory’s flinted edge
we drive home and there is your red maraca in the back seat,
there is your smell of shea and coconut,
we are home and your room is a refuge,
or an abyss, how does a person so small leave
so many things behind
a crib full of air, the nibbled books
days grow long here
among your tiny, linted socks
the sound of you not calling and your name—we are learning
what our hands are for
we wait to hear of you
to know, what our love has fostered
it is better for you to remember us
or to forget
the day before we leave you
we take one last walk. you ahead
always. lifting a tiny finger towards the pinwheels
the plastic rabbits and faded gnomes,
turning everything into a map of grief
with all its bitter landmarks. the buttercups in the yard
those strange, sparkling bits of concrete
everything you’ve loved. the wand-sized twigs on the edge
of the sidewalk—all their magic gone
five hundred days before we leave you
we meet your father, and we know
what it is to lose you.
we see the grief coming
like a bullet or mine.
you, toddling forward. him, reaching
for you in the dark, and we know.
we cover it with our bodies. we don’t want to
but we do.
What I know about love so far
I once read
that when a woman lost her baby,
it was her husband who knelt by the bathtub
and washed the blood
out of her underwear,
letting the cold, red water
run over his shaking fingers.
He was the one who
wrapped their baby
in their best hand towel,
saw that its skin was like
clear, spun thread,
so new it was to living
that it hadn’t learned to hide
any single thing.
I used to think that
a marriage was made
of what you could build together,
instead of what you can survive.
I remember the day
we drove our little boy home
and said goodbye.
How the August sun made
the patterns of the leaves go by
over the skin of his little arms.
How he was too little
that it was the last time.
How, after, the car still smelled like shea
I still wake up at night
and find your fingers
in the dark.
The same dogs
bark outside our house
and trample the yellow daffodils
we never planted.
The seeds just came to us
in the wind.
I don’t need to know
what we can make together,
I know what
you’d do for me,
if you had to.
Cristi Donoso Best (@whalesfordays) is an Ecuadorian-American writer and MFA candidate at American University. Her poems have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Gravel, and Rattle’s Poets Respond series. You can find more of her published work at www.cristidonoso.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And keep speaking.