Poem of the Week, by Aracelis Girmay

A few weeks ago in a long line at the grocery store I felt a small weight against my legs. A toddler was leaning against me with the unassuming peace that comes only in the presence of their parent. Except that I wasn’t this child’s mother –she was in the next line over–and the look of shocked fear in the toddler’s eyes when they realized this was awful to witness.

Then I remembered an outdoor wedding I went to this past summer, where the toddler son of the bride and groom staggered up to me with a big grin and held out his arms to be picked up. The last time I’d seen this child he was an infant. There was no way he recognized me. But there he was, smiling and relaxed in my arms, and somehow this tiny human’s unquestioning trust hurt my heart as much as the other child’s fear. We have to watch over them, is the thought that washed through me, we have to watch over each other, we have to, we have to.

Second Estrangement, by Aracelis Girmay

Please raise your hand,
whomever else of you
has been a child,
lost, in a market
or a mall, without
knowing it at first, following
a stranger, accidentally
thinking he is yours,
your family or parent, even
grabbing for his hands,
even calling the word
you said then for “Father,”
only to see the face
look strangely down, utterly
foreign, utterly not the one
who loves you, you
who are a bird suddenly
stunned by the glass partitions
of rooms.
                                        How far
the world you knew, & tall,
& filled, finally, with strangers.

For more information on poet Aracelis Girmay, please check out her website.

Image by Shaun Tan from his book The Singing Bones.

Words by Winter: my podcast