Today I am going to re-post a poem of mine that appeared on this blog some years ago. I am doing this because the theme of secrecy is one being discussed in one of my Facebook Groups about adoption, but family secrets exist in many families not formed through adoption. There are also many healthy adoptive families that do not harbor such secrets, thankfully.
This poem was written about things I learned as an adult that a couple of my cousins had gone through in childhood. It was difficult to learn of them and to wonder how my own family never suspected any of this, or if they did, didn’t do anything about it, to my knowledge.
As someone who spent decades assessing, preparing and working with adoptive families, I learned quickly that there was and is no such thing as a perfect family, but I also learned how toxic most family secrets are and how perpetuating them is so damaging.
By Iris J. .Arenson-Fuller
When Jesse Jackson’s secret swims to the surface
our clocks are stopped for maybe six seconds.
Those who love the Lord so largely are
often dimly illuminated under the patchwork quilt
where there is a fresh young mission to pursue.
Our own secrets bubbled up after the parents were gone,
slashing through the jungles grown
over dusty childhood memories.
A machete ripped soft middle-aged flesh,
familiar and safe folds of Baby-Boomer bellies.
My high powered microscope can show me
secret creatures swimming in clients’sinks.
I weave my data into safe places.
At night I spin lives into gold,
if they make it through the rigors,
while the stork and I play peeping tom.
Morning trees make shadowy movies on the wall,
branches and leaves engaged in coitus.
Waking slowly, I think about my cousins,
my sunny breakfast-nook childhood,
colorful Dutch girl tablecloth,
bedtime recitations from Shakespeare.
Daddy prompting and offering chocolate
behind my mother’s back.
Boxes of leaves I rolled in then,
called up poetry with which to coat
myself like cornflakes.
Mother marching me to school,
My warm trench dug deeply between
my grandparents in their bed,
Vulcan ears tuned to every last of the
starry story details.
Even Old World rituals to keep thoughts and fears
tightly roped in rooms only I could find,
shouting in two languages,
doughy words that choked and tasted much like
baked products of my evil thoughts and deeds,
did not once light up the pages
stuck behind the fairy tales and songs
I thought were all of us.
I was lucky though.
I see bubbles slowing, forming soup scum
on the surface of our lives
transforming fresh vegetables and thick potato chunks.
Somehow this soup does not taste
to all my cousins as it does to me.
My brain and belly can still feel warm and full
when my tape replays.
My mother’s lips, cool and still on my forehead,
my father’s cleft chin, deep beneath
the smile as I read my poems.
I cannot repair the clocks the cousins find have stopped.
Their clocks grinds out greetings to their days,
sounding like croupy chests with mustard plaster.
When they remember how the soup was,
their stomachs feel the jolt of things I never knew.
Time will not pause, unnoticed, for only six seconds
and then resume the rhythm of the jumprope songs.
In what castle was I sleeping when one cousin
put paper in her shoes to stop the cold?
Her father preached wellness of body and spirit,
while pursuing other missions under
a patchwork quilt not wife-scented.
Were rhymes and games wrapping me so warmly
in what I thought was everywhere and fought against,
that I could not read the mysteries of other houses?
Another uncle welded metal sculptures
with sparks arcing to his son.
Their house stocked no salve to soothe a boy’s raw burns
and did not even see them under the gauze.
Now I am aging Baby Boomer, sometimes vain,
worried about losing looks, ashamed of cobwebs
of superficiality gathering in my corners.
I do know how life is never simple, and simple
replicates itself and turns more insidious
than ever dreamt when mastering theorems
in high school geometry.
I can unwrap surprises from Jesse Jackson,
but the holes that form from family secrets
are like holes from phosphorus grenades.
We remain disfigured and labor at ways
to chant our memories and to somehow live life
without the shutters pulled forever shut.