Life in the Bag

A poem written for my class last semester. The prompt– write a poem about an experience from a different perspective. I tried to put myself in the mind of a child coming to summer camp. Our camps serve kids in “the system,” bringing them to a safe place to simply be kids for a week. 

The poem has been edited from the longer version, describing the child’s bus ride to camp. She contemplates why she fits in with the other kids on the bus and relives the night she was removed from her home and placed in the foster care system.

 

Just six years old
But wise beyond my years
I am told

Just this one bag to fit a house
Filled with things
Piled high on the counters
Stuffed
Into corners and closets

Just this one bag?
Yes, now hurry child
So we can leave to go somewhere safe

Here, a pink teddy bear
To wipe away your tears
Of confusion and welcome
You to this new world

That pink bear doesn’t know who I am
I have twelve or more in my room, each
With it’s own name but you say
Leave them behind and take
Only what you need

I need my momma that’s what I need
But she cries
Screams that it was all a misunderstanding
The gun on the table was to protect our family
Family—   what we were
Before tonight
Daddy said not to touch it
We never did

Momma tries to explain the dirty dishes and
The doggy doo on the floor and the
Bottles she got from the pharmacy that
Have a name that I she doesn’t know
She has a lot of pain but wails with
Grief I’ve never heard before

Should I cry too…   I muster another tear
Squeeze it from the corner of my eye

My big sister is angry but she always is
Troubled about this or that
She is shoving her things into a bag
Black like mine     but with rage
She is angrier today than I’ve seen

The lady helps me figure out
What to take in my black plastic bag
I have shoes for every outfit most
With glitter and sequins because I am
Fancy and a free-range kid
That’s what they say as I run
In my heels through mud puddles
Like the other kids but dressed
To the nines

The baby of the family but a
Family no more
Fosters will be our new family
Our new home
Away from home with a bed time
So much sooner than here   at home
Where I watch life hacks on YouTube as
Mom sleeps in her recliner   Dad
On the couch with a bottle of medicine nearby
As always
He drinks then sleeps
He has pain in his bones and his heart

The bus turns a corner and I’m brought back to now
Awaked from my recollection    of then
When I started to live   my life
Out of a black plastic bag

We have arrived
At summer camp
For kids     like me

Outside the bus window I see a new stranger waiting for me
I know she is mine because my name is written
On a pink piece of poster board
Outlined with glitter and sequins
R – A – E – L – Y– N
That’s me.   That’s who I was.
Named for my mom and dad.

Now I’m not so sure.

 

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