I dislike uncertainty. Take no pleasure in the element of surprise.
I’ll carry the clipboard and checklists around
at my own birthday party. No need to leave anything to chance.

It was my son’s idea of course. There was a plastic pirate out front
and the promise of treasure at the end. I paid, then
shuffled behind, his voice ringing out, follow me

All glass and mirrors. I saw myself reflected a thousand times
all of them weary, impatient. Some days motherhood is just
din and obstacle. I was thinking about

the letter I had received. Another dead end
in my family search. No contact information, no forwarding address.
No one—no one—had been looking for me.

At a certain point, I stopped trying. Extended my arms and felt
along the walls for edges. It was cheating maybe but plodding along
without pleasure or intent doesn’t get you to the end any faster.

It’s been forty-five years. My mother, my father, they
are not getting any younger. Perhaps I waited too long. Perhaps
if I had started earlier there would have been other options. Other

people to reach out to. I read once in my file that I had
a “very good memory,” that I memorized the names
of all the neighborhood dogs. I would like to know them now.

I saw him before he saw me. He was looking around and pacing
not panicked yet but on the verge. I stopped and watched him for as long
as I thought he could bear. He turned when I emerged at last

and ran up and showed me the flag he had won
for making it through first. You were so slow, he told me. It was so
easy. Next time, don’t take so long.

Self-Portrait as Semiramis

Had I been raised by doves
wouldn’t I have learned
to fly
 
By wolves
to hunt in packs
 
Had I been raised by gods
wouldn’t I too
be godlike
 
In the movies the orphan
is the killer
not loved enough
unwanted
 
But wasn’t I
most
wanted
 
My mother
fish goddess
dove into the sea
for the sin of loving
a mortal man
 
I love a mortal man too
 
At night I coax him
from sleep
rousing him
with my mouth
 
By day
we build high brick walls
around us
        	  our Babylon
 
Had my mother lived
to see me rise from this boundless
deep
        	would she recognize me
as I have grown large
and my arms have become
the long arms of the sea
reaching over
        	         and over
                                	     	    for the shore

Related Poems

Self-Portrait in the Bathroom Mirror

Some days, everything is a machine, by which I mean remove any outer covering, and you will most likely find component parts: cogs and wheels that whirr just like an artificial heart, a girl in a red cap redacting the sky, fish that look like blimps and fish-like blimps, an indifferent lighthouse that sweeps the horizon. I wasn’t a child for long and after I wasn’t, I was something else. I was this. And that. A blast furnace, a steel maze inside, the low-level engine room of an ocean liner. My eye repeats horizontally what I by this time already know: there is no turning back to be someone I might have been. Now there will only ever be multiples of me.
 

Shocks and Changes

Summoned at three, I soothe my daughter’s cries
and, turning back toward bed, turn off her light.
Out of the dark, a galaxy appears,
pale stars scattered across the plaster skies
by some other child who thought this room at night
would be his always. The moons, the meteors—
all his hours spent peeling and arranging—
for two years now have hung above my head
entirely unnoticed. The old wives’ tale
says all the stars whose light we see are dead,
but that’s not true. We fail to see them changing
as they change. And on this closer, human scale
and present tense, this room, this child I’ve kissed,
this night will always and never quite exist.