Poem: Flag Up

Photo poppzE from reddit

 

Flag Up

by Shannon P. Laws

 

I forget to put on a coat
as I walk out across the yard
letter in hand

The address will never change
it’s written in my sleep

I’ll place it in its tin house
By eleven tomorrow it will
join the others from the route

My question is on the single sheet inside
I dot all the “i”s with a heart thinking it might help

Many games played in the dark
Many toys left on the lawn

 


 

a postcard poem

Philomena / What Are You?

Just last week I went to see the movie “Philomena” at the Pickford Film Center. Here is what the Internet Movie Data Base writes for the movie’s summary:

“When former journalist Martin Sixsmith is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what do. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena, who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son’s fate. Furthermore, both find their basic beliefs challenged.”

As an adopted child, this was an especially interesting movie to view.  It seemed at times Philomena, played beautifully by Judi Dench, bled out a mothers heart, washing the audience with the experience of a mother being separated from her child.

I cried through most of the movie, and as a poet and an author, I feel forced to categorize my emotions on paper.  Not even sure that’s possible.  In the meantime, below is a re-posting of “What Are You?”.  A post I wrote in 2012 on adoption and family trees.

A psychologist friend of mine shared once, the earlier in a person’s life that a tragic  event occurs, the more of an impact it has on the foundation points of the person’s character.  An adopted child is, sometimes, unwanted at conception.  It’s forming ears hear it’s mother struggle: loving the child, hating the child, doesn’t want the child, wants to keep the child, the guilt and anger.  Some adopted children end up as “transplanted fruit” attached to a new family tree, loved, cared for and happy, others may bounce around in foster homes.  I would guess that most of us have a puzzle that we carry with us, a puzzle that needs to be solved: who are my people? The family blood connection, especially mother/child, is undeniably strong.

The main point, I am glad they highlighted in the movie, is forgiveness.  It is a blessing to me to forgive. To allow myself to forgive.  You can forgive people you never met, even people who birthed you, then walked away.

My mother was 32 when she had me, information on my father is unknown.  If they are still alive, I wish them well.  Too much energy in this world is wasted on hate.  God bless you both, whoever, wherever you are today.

-Shannon P Laws

***

WHAT ARE YOU

Harborview Hospital, Seattle WA
photo taken in the same decade I was born,
from the western slope of First Hill
and part of Yesler Terrace
For the first two weeks of my life I was an orphan.  My birth mother left me at the Seattle hospital I was born in.  She walked in to the emergency room in labor, gave birth and left the next day.  Gone.  Nothing but a one page form filled out.  It’s doubtful that the information she gave was truthful, I never found out.  Fortunately, when I was just two weeks old, my future parents took me in as a foster child.  They adopted me a year later.  I grew up in a happy home.  I was lucky.

Throughout my life there were little moments when not having birth family health history was an issue, usually with trips to the doctor.  Most forms ask for family history.  For example when I was pregnant, the form asked if miscarriages, natural or multiple births ran in the family.  Always I entered “adopted” on the blank line.

My brother and I at the beach
My Aunt called us “Irish Twins”

In my younger years, growing up in an area with a low minority population, people, sometimes strangers, would ask me awkward questions.  Some people are not graceful when they ask about your adoption or race.  In America , there is still a sense of taboo about being adopted, especially by the folks from my grandparents generation.  However, the question of WHO gave me up and WHY, is shadowed by another.  The most asked question from others is “What are you?”   …’scuse me? Yes, it’s true.  Sometimes I’ll respond, “I’m human.  What are you?”  However, when I’m in a cheeky mood, I answer with the only one I have:  “Me? Oh I’m Irish and German.”, then watch them try to figure out how my features fit into those categories.  “You mean Black Irish?”

What are you?

Painted faces from the World Cup 2012

Folks are often confused by my features and can’t figure it out, and sometimes really need to figure it out.  Of all the little issues with being adopted this one is the most confusing for me.  People have guessed that I could be Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Jewish, Slavic, Black Irish, even Gypsy.  No one guesses German or Irish.  I do wonder about my blood line, but WHY is it so important to other people, especially to people that I just met, what my race, nationality or ethnicity is?  Is there a box in their head they are trying to put me in?

Over time, my position regarding what I am changed slightly.  Since I don’t know what race I am, I decided to be ALL races.  This attitude comes in handy and lightens the conversation at times.  Once I offered a friend some hummus.  They went on a rant how they do not like “foreign” food.  I informed him that he was insulting my people.  This friend knew I was adopted and joked back, “You don’t know who your people are.”  I responded proudly, “Then I am ALL people.”  We were joking around, but honestly aren’t we all a little bit of EVERYBODY?

Pedigree Collapse
The truth is that we are everybody… or I mean everyone.  Genealogy is a fickle beast.  Did you hear about the guy who discovered he was a direct relative to King Charlemagne?  NPR ran a great article about the issue of Pedigree Collapse.  It goes something like this:  if you count your direct ancestors backward through time, the further back you go, obviously, the more ancestors you have. But when you do the numbers, something strange happens.

King Charlemagne 742-814,
The “Father of Europe”

Go back to A.D. 800 and the number of direct ancestors is, well, puzzling. You start with two grandparents, then four great-grandparents, then on to eight, 16, etc., and by the time you get to A.D. 800, the number averages to about 562,949,953,421,321. That’s a lot of people. In fact, that’s more people than have ever lived.

So somethings wrong.
What’s wrong is at some point up the line, people get counted twice, or three times. Your great-great-great-great-grandma on one line turns out to also be a great-great-great-great-grandma on another line. The same person can show up multiple times. You get duplicates. And way back, when the population of humans was much smaller, pretty much every line is duplicating heavily till at some point, everybody is your direct ancestor.
So see I wasn’t too far off.  I am related to all and all is everybody.
(…oh and don’t insult my people!)
*blah*
***

References:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/02/16/146981369/the-charlemagne-riddle
Philomena Official Movie Site- © 2013 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY
“Philomena” IMDb Movie Page

Forgiveness

As a writer I am often overtaken by my characters.  Trying to imagine what a new character is thinking, how they would walk, talk, what kind of clothes they wear and what they’ll do next is in the job description.  Yet sometimes I’ll have an encounter SO real that it seems more like entertaining a house guest instead of character development.  Visitation or not this interesting dream encounter with a former plantation slave moved me.
While working on copy for my radio blues program, Boosie’s Playhouse Classic Blues, an unexpected guess knocked on the door of my subconscious. Late one evening I was focused on the origin of the blues.  I learned that the blues started in the fields by slaves call and responding to each other in rhythm to help make the tedious work go by faster, and  to communicate with each other, sometimes in code.  Still thinking on this, I retired for the night, slipped under the covers and fell into a dream.
Visitation
In my dream I sat writing at a desk, wrestling with words, when the spirit of a man walked in and sat down across from me.  The outline of his form glowed giving no doubt that he crossed over from another world, the gateway behind him was blurred.  Lights in the room changed with his presence, turning from fluorescent to candlelight, the walls of the room from brick to log, and the furniture itself changed before my eyes from 21st century to the 19th.
Somehow, in my dream, I knew all about proper ghost etiquette.  When you meet a spirit it is like having the sensation of a butterfly landing on your cheek.  It is wonderful, yet you know instinctively how fragile they are.  You can scare them away with sudden movements or loud noises.  They do not want anything from you, but for you to listen.  Listen to their story, to hear their voice.  If you are fortunate enough to hear a spirit speak, do not ever forget what they tell you.  You must, out of respect for the dead, always remember what it is they tell you.  The only wish of the dead is to be remembered.  And so, I opened my understanding, while I waited for him to speak.
The ghost in my dream had beautiful dark skin, light brown cotton trousers hung from his hips and a loose fitting white shirt.  Broad shoulders and strong arms framed his torso.  He must of been, at least six feet tall when standing.  His demeanor, and this is most important, was like a deep river, moving peacefully.  He was going to talk to me; I could feel it, as long as I stay still, and so I did…
His large hand rubbed his face as he started to form words.  My ears perked up as his story filled my mind; his voice was warm,  “I came here to explain to you what it was like to be a slave.  Being a slave is to be tortured.  To have to no control over your life.  Your day and life are chosen for you, and yet you dream.  You dream of what you think freedom would be like.  You dream of control.  It seems youhave been hurt for a long time and prayed those silent prayers while enduring your pain, and that you kept walking through the pain. That is how I found you.”  The air tingled as his voice gave instruction,  “Listen now.  Being free, legally free, will not give you true freedom.  Until you forgive those that hurt you, you will always be bound up in chains!”
He continued using words and images as he told me his story. For half his life he was a slave in Georgia, then in 1866, he was a free man working as a sharecropper up North.  His children were born free, by his wife who wore his ring, in the home he owned.   His dream to control his own destiny came true, yet something was missing:  forgiveness.  Somehow along the way, he found forgiveness for the slave owners.  He said he knew those dark hearten torturers would never tell him they were sorry, they would never beg for his forgiveness, so to rid himself of the final burden HE forgave THEM.  Those mindless, faceless, nameless torturers of slaves, he forgave them.
The Gift of Forgiveness 
Forgiveness insures that the people who hurt us do not continue to hurt or have power over us.  You must forgive in order to move on.  I was overwhelmed with joy to hear my ghost friend share his story.  He left with a whisper as I woke with a jump.  I knew I had to write it all down, every detail!
Some believe that the power to forgive is a gift from heaven.  The Visitor’s comment “walking through my pain” was in reference to my recent divorce.   Many divorcees hold onto their hatred for their ex’s.  I have met ladies who hold onto hate.  I have seen how it keeps them from enjoying the new life they are trying to build for themselves.  Hate makes us sick!
If you really want to be free from hate, you have to forgive.  This is true for me; I know it without any doubt.
What an interesting dream.  I shall think on it for a long time.  I do not understand how or why I had this dream but I am thankful for it.  Perhaps it was my subconscious trying to make a personal connection between what I was working on and my past.  Or perhaps, just maybe, a spirit came to talk.
Good stuff here: