On Children Lost
This summer has been a difficult one for our nation, as we first read reports of children separated from their parents at the nation's southern border, then heard audio recordings of crying toddlers and saw photographs of children warehoused in cages, sleeping under mylar blankets on cots low to the floor. As a deadline was set by a federal judge for the reunification of families, our attention shifted, even as stories emerged of children improperly tracked and lost within a system not designed for such work and of parents deported without their offspring, and even as officials testified that immigration officials were well aware beforehand of the long-lasting traumatic impact of such separations on children. And yet, they committed to separating children from their desperate parents anyway.
Many in our nation have been horrified at such practices sanctioned and performed by our government; others defend the actions, stating that parents who have come here illegally with their children should expect no less. But all I can think of is the enduring harm we have committed against children -- against those whose brains are still developing and have now been rewired by the trauma of separation. Some have lost language capabilities; others have withdrawn completely, while still others have regressed to bedwetting and other infantile behaviors -- and they all, assuredly, will feel the impact of forced separation for years, if not a lifetime. But officials knew this already, before they began sending children to sleep alone under foil blankets behind wire fences.
And even as this is still happening (maybe because it is still happening) , our national attention has turned in awe toward a mother orca mourning her deceased calf, pushing the decaying body for days on end, covering hundreds of miles, buoyed by the support of her pod:
We marvel at her grief, so
human, at the compassion of killer
whales who keep her close, safe,
share the weight of her grief
and listen to her cry.
A mother's grief is deep indeed. But we knew this already, before we began following the journey of a killer whale in mourning.
The haunting sounds, images, and knowledge of thousands of families pulled one from the other, parent from child, have filled my writing this summer. I have tried out new forms, from the golden shovel to the American sonnet, to the invective and more over the past two months, honing my craft in order to create more incisive images of loss, outrage, and mourning on the page.
Tuck Magazine, an online political, human rights and arts magazine, has graciously published several of my pieces on the treatment of families seeking refuge, asylum, and safety in the United States: two golden shovel poems,"The Price of a Wall" and "Cradle Will Rock," last month, and "Awash" just yesterday. In these pieces, I am troubled by the contrast between our hope and our despair, between ideals and realities, and sift through the layers of images and of words that echo in my head as I read the news and wonder how the pieces fit together. I hold out hope that, compounded with the photographs, recordings, news reports, and more already available, poetry might serve as yet another tool for making sense of the current events of our world.