I’ve been slowly and painfully reading Claudia Castro Luna’s stunningly beautiful book, Killing Marias (Two Sylvias Press, 2017), in which she celebrates in elegiac poems the “disappeared women” of Juarez, Mexico. Of course, these stories portray the same conditions that women in Central America continue to confront, conditions in no small part fostered by US policies. The added insult however, is that now families are being torn apart at US borders.
This morning I looked for my copy of To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Anne Sexton’s first book of poems, published in the early 60’s, which reflects on her first psychiatric hospitalization, an event that separated her from her young daughter. I didn’t find the book, not surprising, having moved so many times since it was placed in my hands by a friend who saw the suicide in me, back in the seventies, while I was trying to make sense of having lost contact with my son. I had already swallowed Plath’s The Bell Jar whole, and was identifying more with feeling like I was crazy, less with how power and abuse were shaping my life, and just on the verge of reading/writing poems myself. I held on to the Sexton book at least long enough to remember these lines:
I could not get you back except for weekends.
My son was kidnapped by his father when he was four; afterwards, the legal sham of a custody war dragged on for over a year. I don’t speak about losing custody of my son often or easily; the experience was too awful and left me with unremitting feelings of shame and helplessness. I identified with Sexton when I read those lines, my own poetic line for my relationship with my son was briefly, in summers.
And I think I know something of how the mothers feel, the ones whose children were snatched from their arms as they showed up seeking asylum at US borders. I can imagine how terrified these children must be, taken from parental arms. The idea that some of these mothers (and yes, fathers too) were deported without their children, that others will possibly never be united, is so unbearable. It’s been difficult to look at how close to home this has hit me. I speak for myself when I say such trauma leaves a lifelong imprint, one that never fully resolves; even as I pray for mother/child reunions and empathetic welcoming of immigrants seeking asylum.
The whole year my son was seven, when it was time to say goodbye, we both tried not to cry. “Goodbye, I’ll never see you again,” is all he said every time he went back to his dad.