It was the moment they said, we picked you, that I knew they had not. They thought they had to say it. They knew they shouldn’t. I was the next gumball down the chute. You put in your nickel, move the lever and wait. Actually it wasn’t quite like that. If you don’t like the color or flavor of gumball, you throw it out or give it to someone else. Spend another nickel, simple. In adoption, there was no do over. In my case as well. Well there was, actually, but if you give one back, you don’t get another unless there was a really big and hidden problem. Read the fine print, the lawyers say, adoptees come with no warranty, and you take us as is. You wouldn’t buy a car that way, would you.
Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.
It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.
I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want
and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood among us,
which is to say none, and we all said
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.
First Proposition: You were put up
for adoption because your birth
parents couldn’t or didn’t want to raise you.
Second Proposition: We or I adopted you
because I wanted you and not another
and to give you the good life you deserved.
Argument: Given all of the possible
alternatives, you ought to be thankful
that we saved you from that other life.
First Fallacy: My birth mother feared
rejection for getting pregnant but would
have been a loving, educated parent.
Second Fallacy: My adoptive mother
had two children with her second husband
after they married, her children at last.
Opinion: You will he told that you are
one of the family, a coequal part inseparable
from and of the others, and the same.
Fact: You were made an orphan and
always will be one, and the best you can
hope for is to be just like family, a simile
that you know will always be a transparent
wall that you can never hope to climb
and which keeps you always separate.
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.
One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father
but his was
William, and in
James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.
And later still
a single picture
he in the back
row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.
I have two mothers, now both dead,
I have three fathers, one unknown, one buried
outside Washington and one lost
in a corner of his shrinking mind.
I am growing older, I have aches
and clicks and pops and groans,
which each remind me that I
am aware and alive and that
isn’t a bad way to start a new day.
I’d like you to tell me
about the village in which
you grew up, and how odd
it must have been for you
to have met my grandfather
so far from any village
in the heart of Lithuania.
I suspect you left
with your parents, exhausted
by pogroms, exhausted
by the Jewishness
that to them defined you.
I’d love to know
about my mother who
I never got to meet,
of your eight children,
but like you, she
is silent and all
I have left
is a small photo
and a volume
of imagined memories.
It’s difficult enough, Mom, that I
never got to meet you, to see your face
save in a college yearbook, to have
only a few relatives acknowledge
my existence despite the DNA test
that clearly links us, one to the other.
What makes it more difficult is
trying to figure out my heritage,
my geographic roots before our family
arrived in West Virginia, back
in the old country which for most
was Lithuania, but for some Poland
and still others Russia, as though
their village was loaded onto a horsecart
and dragged around Eastern Europe
always heading to the next pogrom.
Couldn’t our place have settled
on a country, rather than riding the tides
of the insanity the leaders then?
I always imagined it would somehow
be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way,
but in an idyllic, picturesque manner,
even if that denied basic reality.
Reality, when it comes to origins discovered
is overrated, for the normal percolation time
is denied, and the impact is sudden
with no restraints to temper the blow.
Way back when, you learned by stories
told by the elders, who know, or led
you to believe they did without question,
who painted word pictures, drew out
fading photographs that barely seemed real.
You believed them because they knew,
knowledge directly proportional to their age.
For me it was the inside of my cheek,
a wait, and an email, and then news,
place names barren of detail, Lithuania.
Later, village names, and only then visions
of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search
for freedom and West Virginia.
Details were added, but the picture
was monochrome, a barren, wordless
palette and no brush to be found.
It was scrawled on the back of a grocery receipt, barely legible. Charles H. Boustead Tunnel, fryingpan river. The river is lower case, its capitals dangling by serifs in one of the tunnel grates that constricts the water’s flow.
Outside the full moon is ensnared in the gnarled, barren branches of the white birch. She struggles vainly to break free, but the maple wraps its limbs around her. It is only when she retreats into the earth, covers herself over, that the trees cede their grasp.
When Luna curls against you, is she chilled from the night sky, or does she reflect the warmth of the distant star? Does she press against the shredded satin, wrap herself in the fringe of your kittel? And when she tires of you, does she leave by the rotting, split pine boards through which you, bit by bit, return to the soil to nurture her captor?
I stand outside, shivering under a full January moon. Fading impressions of you are shunted into the tunnel of my memory. I never know where or when they will emerge, what they have gathered, what has been lost along the way. I hope for their return, regardless of form. The Boustead Tunnel carries about 54,000 acre feet of water annually from the river to the Turquoise Reservoir.
I suppose it is oddly fitting that
I was born in the continental U.S.
but can claim no state as home.
I was a Federal child, and that
meant nothing at all to me, a child who
left town at two after a father’s death,
a sister reclaimed by the government,
which was no State, just a Federal
enclave, and we all know how bad
things are inside the Beltway, those
trapped there are denied even the small
joy of self governing, waiting for Congress.
But I was an adoptee, stateless
in heritage from birth, so that was
a familiar condition, until the moment
my DNA took voice, and I suddenly
had two heritages, fully mine and
my mother’s cherished Mountain State to boot