The man has chosen
that he wants his ashes scattered
from the end of the pier

where he used to fish with his buddies.
They’d sit on overturned paint buckets.
Sometimes the waves gusted up

and the hems of his pants got wet and salty.
He liked the gulls that stood on the railing,
all puffed up with sky.

Having made the decision,
he walks at dusk to the end of the pier
and looks out at the sea.

As he turns away, he sometimes gives
a small, happy nod, like a man
thinking yes, I will buy this house.

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.

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

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.

Related Poems

Guidebooks for the Dead

Mother’s crimson leather bags
Crammed with saint cards
And tiny glass bottles of liquor.

The bright stitch
Of God’s final coming.

Dirt and dregs, silt and stars.

The sweet song
Of poverty

Rinsing through me
Like the memory
Of a dream.


i’m interested in death rituals.

maybe that’s a weird thing to say.

when i say interested i mean,

i’ve compiled a list.

on it are mourning practices

gathered across time & continents

it’s long & oddly comforting

how no one knows a damn thing

about what follows. i wont

share it with you, only say,

evidence suggests neanderthals

were the first hominids to bury

their dead. also, i’ll say they

didn’t possess a written language,

which points toward internment

as a form of document. the body

is ink in the earth. the grave marker,

a gathering together of text.

the first written languages were

pictorial & marked the movement

of goods between peoples.

i don’t know what to do with that

but pretend death’s a similar kind

of commerce: face stamped

into a coin, what’s left of the body

in the belly of a bird, two lines

that meet to make a man

alive again on paper. i know i know,

ashes to ashes & all that dust

to irreverent dust. i know everyone

i love who’s dead didn’t actually

become the poem i wrote about them.

their breath a caught fathered

object thrashing in the white space

between letters. contrary to popular

belief elephants don’t actually bury

their dead lacking the necessary

shovels & opposable thumbs rather

they are known to throw leaves

& dirt upon the deceased & this

is a kind of language. often the tusks

from dead elephants are scrivened

into the shapes of smaller elephants

& sold to travelers who might display

this tragic simulacrum upon

their mantel as a symbol of power

& of passage. when i’m gone, make me again

from my hair. carry me with you

a small book in your pocket.

Real Estate

My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.