Missing Children, Helen Todd: My Birthname, A Coconut for Katerina, Children

Poems by Sandra McPherson

 

Missing Children

 “She wouldn’t choose me,” my adopting mother mourned

as if that were a judgment call

an infant could make,

 

intaking information,

christening it evidence, milk or not,

then not being able to name, for months,

 

the nurse, the nipple.  Now,

weanling, teen, ultimately matron,

I choose compassion

 

for the barren,

praying, collegiate wife. 

Mother, by name.

 

*** 

 

“The missing boy

was last seen by their car”-

not what the detective meant.  Beside the car,

 

by the mother,

whatever the child was looking

away from.  With a bucket,

 

toward a thicket.

 

Helen Todd: My Birthname

 

They did not come to claim you back,

To make me Helen again. Mother

Watched the dry, hot streets in case they came.

This is how she found a tortoise

Crossing between cars and saved it.

It’s how she knew roof-rats raised families.

In the palmtree heads. But they didn’t come-

It’s almost forty years.

 

I went to them. And now I know

Our name, quiet one. I believe you

Would have stayed in trigonometry and taken up

The harp. Math soothed you; music

Made you bold; and science, completely

Understanding. Wouldn’t you have collected,

Curated, in your adolescence, Mother Lode

Pyrites out of pity for their semblance

To gold? And three-leaf clovers to search

For some shy differences between them?

 

Knowing you myself at last-it seems you’d cut

Death in half and double everlasting life,

Quiet person named as a formality

At birth. I was not born. Only you were.

 

A Coconut for Katerina

 

Inside the coconut is Katerina’s baby. The coconut’s hair, like

        Katerina’s brown hair.

Like an auctioneer Katerina holds the coconut, Katerina in her

        dark fur coat

covering winter’s baby, feet in the snow. Katerina’s baby is the

        milk

and will not be drinking it.

 

Ropes hanging down from the trees-are they well ropes? Ropes

       on a moss

wall. Not to ring bells but used for climbing up and down

or pulling, I mean bringing. Anchor ropes on which succulent ropy

       seaplants grow.

 

And floating like a bucket of oak or like a light wooden dory,

        the coconut bobs,

creaking slowly, like a piling or a telephone pole with wet wires

downed by a thunderstorm over its face.

 

This baby’s head, this dog’s head, this dangerous acorn is the

        grocer

of a sky-borne grocery store where the white-aproned grocer or

        doctor imprints it

with three shady fingerprints, three flat abysses the ropes will

        not cross.

 

What of it? There is enough business for tightrope walkers in

        this jungle.

The colonizers make a clearing

for a three-cornered complex of gas stations, lit with a milky

        spotlight

at night.

 

              And here we dedicate this coconut to Katerina. We

        put our hand

on the round stomach of Katerina. We put our five short ropes

     of fingers on the lost

baby of Katerina and haul it in to the light of day and wash

        it with sand.

 

Coconut, you reverse of the eye, the brown iris in white, the

        white center

in brown sees so differently. The exposed fibrous iris,

the sphere on which memory or recognizing must have latitude

        and longitude

to be moored

 

or preserved in the big sky, the sea’s tug of war. The tugging of

        water

held in and not clear. Lappings and gurglings of living hollows

        half filled,

half with room

for more empty and hopeful boats and their sails.

 

Children

 She will run to you for love whoever

you are, you who’d forgotten what you look like.

She keeps a book of forms in her arms,

like a fitter exact on waists.

 

And perhaps I’ll have to pull her from

celebrating her birth between your legs

although she is my only child

and good at it and best of all the children

 

you don’t have. You know her face

can’t be yours. But let me become a stranger,

not act myself, beat on the mirror and cry-

she sees I look like her alone.

 

And sticking her face in mine, smearing my

lipstick with her index finger, igniting

the pale mustache, drawing the seeing mirror

of her glasses down oil

 

on my cheeks, she hangs my picture

forever in her head. So that she always

sees to me when I am down

and thinks the way to raise me is

 

to climb aboard me toe for toe, palm

lidding palm so I can’t withdraw

or go out of our single mind

to have another child.

 

“Missing Children” originally appeared in print in Austria.
“Helen Todd: My Birthname” appeared originally in Patron Happiness, Ecco Press, 1979
“A Coconut for Katerina” appeared originally in The Year of Our Birth, Ecco Press, 1973
“Children” appeared originally in The Spaces Between Birds, Wesleyan University Press, 1996
Poetry editor Tania Pryputniewicz interviewed Sandra McPherson about these poems on She Writes. Please check it out here.
Recently retired after 23 years on faculty at the University of California, Davis, Sandra McPherson studied at the University of Washington with David Wagoner and Elizabeth Bishop. McPherson taught for four years in the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was Holloway Lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, and conducted several years of classes for the Oregon Writers Workshop/Pacific Northwest College of Art.  In 1999 she founded Swan Scythe Press, a poetry chapbook publishing venture (www.swanscythe.com) with 26 chapbooks in print under McPherson’s direction and two newly forthcoming under Jim DenBoer’s direction.
McPherson’s honors and awards include three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a Guggenheim fellowship, two Ingram Merrill grants, an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and letters, and a nomination for the National Book Award.  She was featured on the Bill Moyers television series The Language of Life. Her volumes of poetry include: Expectation Days, University of Illinois Press, 2007, A Visit to Civilization, Wesleyan/University Press of New England, 2002, Beauty in Use, Janus Press, 1997, Edge Effect: Trails and Portrayals, Wesleyan/University Press of New England, 1996, The Spaces Between Birds: Mother/Daughter Poems 1967-1995, Wesleyan/University Press of New England, 1996, The God of Indeterminacy, U of Illinois, 1993, Streamers, Ecco, 1988, Patron Happiness, Ecco, 1983, The Year of Our Birth, Ecco, 1978, Radiation, Ecco, 1973, Elegies for the Hot Season, Indiana University Press, 1970; reprinted by Ecco, 1982.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Response to “Missing Children, Helen Todd: My Birthname, A Coconut for Katerina, Children”


  • I just cleaned out my garage and found a copy of her poem My Birthname. I knew it was from a book written by Bill Moyers and I have looked and looked… Being Adopted, I know how wonderful it is to have found your past. Thank you for your wonderful poem. I am now writing myself and enjoy putting my feelings on paper…

Leave a Reply




Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.