Susan Gevirtz and Eileen Tabios: Starry Messengers, Tornadoes, and the Children Who Pop Up

Susan Gevirtz

Eileen Tabios

A week ago on Friday night May 7th Susan Gevirtz and Eileen Tabios read as part of Small Press Traffic's reading series. It was the night of an end-of-year fashion show at the California College of the Arts. There was a huge white party tent and young people in snazzy youthful outfits milling about. There was music.

In Timken Hall we were dazzled by Susan and Eileen. In her reading, each poet addressed current events; Susan mentioned she was thinking a lot about Greece and their economic and social crises and Eileen, as you'll read below, wrote and spoke about the recent adoption return case involving an American family and a child adopted from Russia.

Susan Gevirtz's reading was expansive and I wanted a copy of AERODROME ORION & STARRY MESSENGER right then and there! Sadly, for various reasons, author boks were not availble on this evening. I particularly liked the pieces I heard from Starry Messenger. Susan didn't read the piece below, but since I haven't a copy of her book on hand, let me share this excerpt from elsewhere online:

Brief History of the Sky: A Manual for Air Traffic Controllers

It is well known that brevity is essential to any discussion of the sky. Thus for the
sake of brevity we will divide the sky into its fractions: the Ptolemaic sky, the
afternoon sky, the weatherless sky, the seared sky of summer, the skewered sky of winter tree tops, brother to the Titian sky, sister to the drawn-out sky, Father of the perspectival sky, Mother to the smoke-stacked skyline of London in 1870. All of these skies require further divisions into many more skies that can only briefly be mentioned or barely even motioned at, here. The drenched sky whose light withers seeing, skies of insomniacs plastered with sleep, little-known night skies for the sake of pollination, navigating by fluorescent light the daunted night sky under which urban cleaning occurs, Athena's sky palace, the sky whose character alters according to the ages of ice. This is to divide the sky into some of its many halves, some of which contain a moon, and some of which understand the moon as a lamp lit by the night-candler. The night sky as we now know it in major urban electrical centers, is an infant sky. It has only watched us sleep, lorded over us, posed at dark, for a mere century and a half, in a futile attempt to persuade its inhabitants to buy the concept of rest. It is perhaps the briefest of all the brief skies in the history of skies. Why is any of this important to air traffic controllers? Because air traffic controllers navigate many skies at once. There is the sky on the screen and that is the fastest sky ever to burn --strung up by an umbilicus of connected dots: one dot is the pilot's voice, another the pilot's eyes, another the air traffic controller's voice and fourth leg is the air traffic controller's eyes. All of these, far more than the jet engine shoving air out of its path at such high speed that the plane creates its own slipstream into which it proceeds forward, keep the plane up. And the sky is kept up by the same means.
There is no other time in history that the sky has been kept up over the earth in this fashion.

You can read more of Susan's work and a translation of it into Greek by Vassilis Manoussakis at the Paros Symposium web site. Founded by Susan and Siarita Kouka in 2004 to foster translation and exchange between Greek and Anglophone poets, translators and scholars, the Paros Symposium meets annually.

Here's what Robert Kocik writes about Gevirtz's work:

It's not possible to be more phenomenologically direct than the poetry on these pages. This is removal of the obstacles of perception, beginning with perception, often by means of the obstacles themselves. This is what the sky is. All other skies in this one. There is a host of impossibilities to be found in AERODROME ORION & STARRY MESSENGER. Susan Gevirtz's page is both an inclusion of a scale too vast for inclusion and a selection of the minutiae that includes it. Someone might say 'air.' She has said 'astro stage.' I'd introduce the Sanskrit term 'akasa' (akasa is free or open space--the most primary and pervasive of elements--medium of life and sound). What is all over the place is normally not only beyond our grasp, it's not even noticeable. A path is usually cut or carved. Yet her paths are melted into the medium that is itself the way. This is incredibly accurate with regard to consciousness when we are indeed conscious. Terribly limited terms are not only not obstacles, they're instrumental and indispensable in opening the view--like little portals. Like latches. Like Lockheed's P3 Orion 4 engine aircraft. Hers is a prosody that responds to the physical forces of flight. She measures in leap seconds (again, not possible). Just as she has asked of a feather, I can with like awe and admiration ask of each page of this work: 'how can there be such a thing as'"
--Robert Kocik.

The Kocik quote comes from the Small Press Distribution web site where you can purchase Susan and Eileen's books.

You can read Susan's poem "Orion" from Aerodrome here.

Eileen followed Susan and captivated the audience with recent work reflecting on the catastrophic situtation of orphans. She prefaced her reading by citing the news stories about the American family who returned their 7 year old adopted child to Russia by putting the child alone on a plane to be picked up at the airport in Russia by someone the family had contacted through the interent. Eileen spoke about the "boneheaded" act of putting a 7 year old on a plane alone but noted that she did not blame the mother for returning the child as many in the adoption and world at large have. The work she read provided an explanation why.

On The Children I Couldn’t Bring Home

It is Mother’s Day 2010 as I write this, and it’s been just over a year now since I and my husband adopted our son Michael from Colombia, where he had been living in an orphanage for about seven years. Today, Michael gave me the best Mother’s Day present: a drawing of some Terminator-type character upon which he’d collaged a tiny booklet of poems I’d written for a Haiti relief fundraiser called “Hay(na)ku for Haiti” (http://meritagepress.blogspot.com/2010/02/haynaku-for-haiti.html). On his drawing, Michael features the strange Terminator character as saying, “I heart your book.” Well, what a wonderful gift for a child to give a writer-mom!

But prior to Michael joining our family, there was an earlier attempt to adopt another boy, a ten-year-old I will call “M”. That failed adoption—a “disruption”, in adoption lingo…and what an understatement!—occurred due to M.’s failure to attach to us as new parents. Older children (and I’ve seen “older” in the adoption world to be defined as low as four years or older) are asked for their consent prior to being placed with adoptive parents. After spending time together, M. chose not to continue with his adoption. Because of the way his life had unfolded through abuse and neglect, M. found it difficult to attach to anybody and, given a choice, ultimately chose not to take on the uncertainties of another family. Since this occurred after nearly a year of communicating with M. who expressed interest all along in joining our family, the disruption during what was supposed to be the final phase of adoption was extremely difficult. During the plane ride back to San Francisco, I ended up trying to write about the experience (mostly to deal with the anguished result) through poems, the last of which became

Ars Poetica at Age 47

the world
cannot become fitted

the poem.
Even the “Poem.”

What I wrote in that plane ride came to be a haybun (a combination of prose and hay(na)ku poems) that would be published in my book The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys . But since that time—since the above poem—three years ago and until very recently, I barely wrote any new poems. My lack of creativity was masked by the release of new books and chapbooks (including The Thorn Rosary which also includes the haybun among its Selected Prose Poems), but such merely reflected the time lag between writing poems and seeing them published in book form.

My experience with M. returned to haunt me again recently when the news broke out in April over the incident of a Tennessee woman, Torry-Ann Hansen sending her adopted 7-year-old son Artem Saveliev back home to Russia by himself with a note demanding that the adoption be annulled; supposedly, Artem suffered severe psychopathic issues which were not revealed by Russian authorities to the Hansen family. For the record, the Russian authorities dispute Hansen’s assessment.

Like many adoptive parents—especially those waiting to adopt Russian children and whose cases would come to be affected by the Hansen situation—I was pained by this incident. On my part, I’ve seen estimates range from 37 to 200 million for orphans worldwide, and the most difficult category for its members to get adopted are "older boys." There is a lot of fear over adopting older children, and especially older boys, and my own experience with M. makes me empathize with such fears. But spurred by the recent Hansen incident, I decided to talk more about my son Michael with the hope that my experience will offset the media coverage of adoption failures. Most adoptions do succeed, but they are not the ones garnering headlines.

And I suppose, as a poet, I also didn’t want my poem “Ars Poetica at Age 47” to be my last word on the subject, or any subject. Thus, at my recent SPT reading and in some recent writings elsewhere, I’ve been doing something that comes very easily to me: I’ve been insufferable… as I boast about my son Michael. So let me share about Michael:

He lived in an orphanage for about seven years. At the time of his adoption, he was 13 years old, but only in 4th grade, though the grade level was by that orphanage’s terms. At the time of his adoption, he could add but barely subtract. But just six months later, he was slotted into 7th grade (because of his age) in one of California's top public schools. There, with vigilant tutoring on my part and with his huge work ethic, he swiftly became honor roll. Last quarter, he received three top-of-his class certificates in addition to his A-average Honor Roll certificate. This quarter, so far it looks like he’ll be a straight-A student.

In sports, he was on a championship soccer team, and does well in other sports new to him, from skiing to tennis to swimming. He also just received an awards certificate in P.E.--he can run a mile in just over six minutes. This is a child, by the way, who is small for his age because of past neglect and malnutrition—he is 14 years old today, but could pass for ten. Fortunately, he’s growing swiftly—he grew more in the past year within our family than he did from about six to eight years old in an orphanage.

His hobbies today include building model rockets, photography, drawing (he's an excellent artist), bee-keeping, skateboarding, movies and exploring the night-sky through telescopes. I’m delighted to share that he’s also developed into a reader—he reads himself to sleep every night.

He knows his manners, is engaged with people, and has developed a humorous wit. He is also sensitive and compassionate—recently, he told me about seeing a group of drivers from a Ferrari rally, and thinking that those drivers need to have spent all the money acquiring their cars for "better" reasons, like solving the plight of poor people. When he's helped bring food to the local food pantry, I can see his eyes observing, assessing, and ... caring, even as it also bolsters his fortitude for making something of himself (whatever that may mean)

Of course, he’s been taking English-as-a-Second-Language class. And in that class he also just wrote his first English-language poem, an acrostic entitled “Tornados”, and you are about to be blessed with this brilliant (!) poem by my son Michael

Oh no!
Run, run for your life
Nobody is safe
All the houses are
Down, televisions crashing into cars
Oh my god, my
Son is safe!

A close reading of this superb (!) poem reveals the expansiveness of this 14-year-old’s world view—this poem is not written from the personal “I” which often afflicts teenagers. That last couplet, “Oh my god, my Son is safe” relates to a parent’s point of view. I like to think that the lines “my / Son is safe!” is him extrapolating from the loving care he receives at home. A sense of safety, after all, is ever made more precious by a history that resulted in bringing him to an orphanage, and then having to leave for a new home in a new country with a new language.

So that is my son Michael—a scholar, athlete, philanthropist (he puts coins whenever he can in the charity bottles by supermarkets’ cash registers), artist (whose drawings have been shared now with such art world luminaries as the artist Eve Aschheim as well as the poet-art critic John Yau), and now budding poet. This is my son Michael—who for many years was neglected by those who were supposed to take care of him. This is my son Michael who, in terms of possible adoption, was once considered to be “a lost cause.” This is my son Michael—who needed that against-all-odds alternative of finding an adoptive family in order to thrive.

As for my poems, to my own surprise, I don’t write much about Michael. The children who pop up in my poems so far are the ones I met during our two-year international adoption process—the children to whom I couldn’t give a home and are still waiting for a so-called “forever family.” Some samples available online are “The Blue Mule: An Ad(o)aption Triptych” and “from Orphaned Algebra”.

If these poems, as well as my sharing about my son Michael’s life, can help spread the word about the global humanitarian catastrophe posed by orphans, I can think of no better use for my writings.

Last but not least, our family met Michael through a wonderful organization, Kidsave. One of its programs is to bring over older children to the U.S. for a five-week summer break. While here, host families and Kidsave contacts explore the possibility of finding them adoptive parents. It's a great arrangement as it enables folks interested in adopting "older" children as well as the children to get to know each other over a prolonged period of time (longer than the time usually given in most adopting processes). Kidsave is now preparing for this year's "Summer Miracles" program; information is their site, or directly at this link: http://kidsave.org/summer.shtml Please pass the word -- if even one child gets adopted by someone learning about Kidsave (which is what happened with us), that result is a Home Run!

Thanks to Susan and Eileen for outperforming the fashionable goings-on outside!

Bios from Small Press Traffic:

Susan Gevirtz's recent books include Aerodrome Orion & Starry Messenger (forthcoming from Kelsey Street Press), Broadcast, and Without Event: Introductory Notes (forthcoming). Along with teaching locally at various Bay Area institutions, she runs with Greek poet Siarita Kouka The Paros Symposium, on Paros island, an annual meeting of poets and translators from Greece and the United States.

Eileen R. Tabios has released 15 print, four electronic and 1 CD poetry collections, an art essay collection, a poetry essay/interview anthology, and a short story collection. Her most recent book is Rosary of Thorns: Selected Prose Poems 1998-2009.

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