In many ways my mother was a typical suburban housewife of the ’50s. She was a stay-at-home mom with two children and a house to clean and maintain. But she was also a very bright and ambitious young woman. She didn’t have a driver’s license and, like many husbands of that time, my father wasn’t keen on her getting a job as he felt it reflected negatively on his ability to provide for his family.

Nevertheless, she found something she could do at home that used her skills and also brought in a bit of extra money. Through our church, she heard about the opportunity to take in foster children. Not an easy process, it involved home visits by representatives of the foster agency to determine the home environment and the fitness of the parents, something that would make any mother nervous.

She passed this hurdle and the first child placed with us was a toddler named Diane, a beautiful little girl with long curls. Her arrival caused a bit of an uproar amongst some of my aunts and uncles, because she was dark skinned. They were convinced that she was not a “white” child which, prejudiced as they were, made it some kind of sin for my mother to make her a part of our family. My mother defended Diane though and treated her with love. I shared a room with Diane, but I don’t remember it being a burden at all. She was an easygoing child and it didn’t take long for the agency to find an adoptive family for her.

The next addition to our family was Helen. She was also a toddler when we got her, though a bit older than Diane, and she had blonde hair and blue eyes so there was no outcry from the extended family. I remember showing off Helen to my junior high classmates, but the truth is I was a bit jealous of her. My father fawned over her, dressing her in the kind of frilly dresses that I would never wear, and letting her stand on the back seat of the car, something he would yell at me for doing. (This, of course, was in the days before such things as car seats or even regular seat belt use.)

Helen was not an orphan as Diane had been. Her parents were divorced and, though custody had been awarded to her mother, the woman was not yet able to provide for her daughter. My mother would sometimes have to go into the city to take Helen to see her mother, and both her parents came out to our house to visit her at times. Eventually she went to live with her mother.

At the same time that we had Helen as part of our family, we took in another child, a boy called Walter. He was older than Helen, about eight, and my brother and I had more difficulty adjusting to having this new brother. He was old enough that he wanted to join in our games. Both my brother and I saw him as somehow inferior and I’m sure this didn’t help him settle in. He was a troubled little boy. He missed his family, particularly an older brother. Eventually his behavior became more than my mother could handle. When he stole money from her purse, my father put his foot down and said that was it. I know this failure was hard on my mother.

Despite the difficulties with Walter, our home was a fairly loving situation. The foster children were well cared for and never abused. That isn’t the case with some children in foster care. For a time, Lourdes Tutaine-Garcia did volunteer work with troubled boys in foster care who’d had traumatic pasts. She says, “I remember one boy’s optimism was lined with a darkness I feared might not be repairable. Although he tried to commit suicide, he is now doing well. I hope the optimism keeps winning.”

Lourdes Tutaine-Garcia is Cuban by birth, American by citizenship, Cuban-New Englander by culture. She lives in Midcoast Maine where she listens to what the ocean has to tell her and runs home to write it down. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Origami Poems Project, The Adanna Literary Journal, MONO (GB), and SCUM (AU). Blanket Sea nominated one of her poems for Sundress Publications 2019 Best of the Net. BestLit Review selected her as one of the 10 best prose writers in Midcoast Maine.

The poem is from a collection titled “Furtive Childhood” and also appears in an anthology, “Wood: Poems from Belfast Woodshed, Vol. I” (Inked Toad Press, 2020).

 

Then, Possibly Yourself

If you had more than fifty cents

and a stick of gum in your pocket,

you could evade foster care again

by turning into a sparrow and flying

 

into the penitent coolness of the night

over water towers, skyscrapers, past the moon,

careful not to nudge stars that fall when touched

or elbow Saturn’s ring in case it shatters

 

to tumble into a realm where not even breathing makes sound

and land as thought in another woman’s womb

ready to be conceived into another way of living

 

where clapping never comes from a single hand

smashing against an already swollen cheek,

where blood splats from a broken nose

do not pose as a Pollock painting,

 

where alien doors, surreal with knobs at eye level,

stay hinged in place and do not wander into people’s faces

the night before,

 

where a handgun having breakfast on the kitchen table

has no plan to shoot anyone

 

or for you to shoot them both

then, possibly yourself.

 

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s poet laureate.

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