At a Days Inn in Barstow, California

It's dusk on a Tuesday in June. A hot wind
       bears down and east. In my room, a stranger's
hairclip lies like a gilded insect beside the sink.
       Hours later, it's still dusk; it will be dusk all night.
Last month, I cut the masking tape from a box my mother left
       my sister and me. On the lid, she wrote, Life is hard, not
unbeatable. If I can do it, darlings, so can you. 2 am. A rosy dark
       dusting the window, the heat a ladder into sleep.

More by Chloe Honum

St. Mary’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Otahuhu, Auckland

an erasure from the history section of the Anglican Trust for Women and Children’s website

a      constant danger—

people who desire

                                 exceptional experience

in     controlling     girls

                                            nature and scope of work

and        milk

Read More About Our History

In 1964, Maggie Wilkinson gave birth to a baby girl at St. Mary’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Auckland. Against her will, her daughter was immediately taken and given to a married couple to adopt. In her 2016 petition urging the New Zealand government to conduct an inquiry into the decades-long practice of forced adoption, she points out that the history section of the Anglican Trust for Women and Children’s website does not mention St. Mary’s Home for Unwed Mothers. She asks: “Do they believe by erasing it from their history that it will go away? That the evil will fade?"

The history remembers twelve cows on average
were milked, and that an Old Boy sent the secretary
a postcard from the Holy City. Maggie Wilkinson
was told her records were lost in a fire—or a flood.
She was force-fed drops (ergometrine)? . . . bound and given a drug to stop
lactation, stilbestoerol??? The history includes the names of many
bishops and buildings, and the cost per annum of running things.
Yet there is no space for the matron’s soft shoes, her habit of
silently appearing behind Maggie and screaming if her mop strokes were not square.
No room for the Bible on which the mothers were made to swear
never to try to find their children. Look at the rain tonight
in Auckland, how insistently it searches, in hard spirals,
down Queen Street toward the sea. Winter has just begun.
Soon, the moon will infuse the clouds with a color that has
no name—shy of silver, shy of violet. Homes of Compassion,
some were called. St. Vincent’s. St. Mary’s. One girl,
in the weeks after giving birth, eased her ache by carrying
the family cat in her arms as one would a baby.

 

Italicized language is drawn from supporting articles and letters included in the petition: Petition 2014/80. Inquiry into Misuse of the Adoption Act.

Related Poems

The Sublime Before (Is Someone's After)

Red-throated hummingbirds spar above

the magnolia. Upwind, something grilled.

The dogs are still alive, yap at whitetail in

the cornfield. The rooster hasn't chased us

down the driveway, so no one got fed up,

loaded the shotgun. Father's heart doesn't

yet float on a pillow of fat. The miscarriage

is years off. Summers, we bleach hair with

lemon, are warm as gold on skin, haven't

glimpsed the shapes we'll be hammered in.

Erstling

Death is a beige Mercedes sedan.

I am five and riding
In the back,

Eating small white chocolates,
My long, thin body

Along the butter-
Soft red leather seat.

What I want is to become

What I was
Before the accident.

You think
I’m a rumor.

I move from one world
To the next

Living inside a mink
Lined winter,

           God’s child-
           Like voice

           Singing quietly
           Inside me.

While looking at photo albums

Christmas Eve, 2016

Before everyone died – in my family – first definition I learned was – my mother’s maiden name, ULANDAY – which literally means – of the rain – and biology books remind us – the pouring has a pattern –  has purpose – namesake means release – for my mother meant, flee – meant leave – know exactly what parts of you – slip away – drained sediment of a body – is how a single mama feels – on the graveyard shift – only god is awake –  is where my – family banked itself – a life rooted in rosaries – like nuns in barricade – scream – People Power – one out of five – leave to a new country – the women in my family hone – in my heart – like checkpoints – which is what they know – which is like a halt  – not to be confused for – stop – which is what happened to my ma’s breath– when she went home – for the last time – I didn’t get to – hold her hand as she died – I said I tried – just translates to – I couldn’t make it – in time – I tell myself – ocean salt and tear salt – are one and the same – I press my eyes shut – cup ghost howl – cheeks splint wood worn – which is to say – learn to make myself a harbor – anyway – once I saw a pamphlet that said – what to do when your parent is dead –  I couldn’t finish reading – but I doubt it informs the audience – what will happen – which is to say – you will pour your face & hands – & smother your mother’s scream on everything – you touch – turn eyelids into oars – go, paddle to find her.