“147 Million Orphans: A Haybun”



weekend weekday

reacquaint vessel insubordinate

To learn his new language, the adoptee was charged with learning 25 English words a week during the schoolyear.  Each new word spilled from the wet graphite tip of a knife. “Weekend, weekday”—such common terms, such common concepts.  To the adoptee, the two words at first were a sifting of gravel for more gravel.  Revelation was hard-fought, only to camouflage its rewards too well—comprehending the significance of sun versus moon was another blow from a belt’s brass buckle that refused to remain a lost memory.  In an orphanage, time is relevant only if a future is acknowledged. For such acknowledgement, desire must come to transcend selfishness—almost impossible among those owning nothing, especially their fate.  For an orphan, the dog’s point of view suffices: the present is all that matters, especially when it lacks the fist, the empty plate, a rotgut bottle’s cap as toy, the alley as bedroom.  Or so the orphanage staff believed—

when the boy whose intellect dwarfed his body started hurling rocks through the dim windows of the orphanage, he was not defining “knucklehead.”  If a vessel with its hidden hole loses its base, how to contain, hold, embrace … anything in flux like liquids or emotions or identity or the degradation of the word “consequence” into “punishment”? How to trust in the passage of time to offer the possibility of possibilities?  That adoption commences a progression will not dilute the pain of how each new word must be gained through bodily cutting as if to live a bad poem’s dictum: to feel is to hurt. How to trust that a metaphor need not be a lie? What a knothole—this interior of a fist! This classroom of negative space…!



screening insightful

prescient melancholy evasive

If you were a sleeping bird in Madagascar, a certain species of moth might drink your tears through a fearsome proboscis shaped like a harpoon. They’d insert their tools beneath your eyelids.  They would drink avidly.  You were a rapt presence as you met this species through the grainy television screen used to babysit hundreds of orphans.  After the television darkened, no genius would be required to explain your prescient conclusion: you will attempt to evade too much in this life, you will fail, there is no other lifeYou, sadly, will come to prefer silk, even polyester, doppelgangers to roses that otherwise would shrivel.  Your insights will always arise from the sheen of rain-drenched pavements. For example, that one can weep without the aid of nightmares—that one can weep in the most safe haven, or even the small heavens that still and do manage to pock-mark our mortal planet. 



malignant integrate

limp conceptualize prioritize

To remember a father’s fist against a mother’s cheek is to integrate the malignant into myocardium.  Short-term memory is a temporary activation of neural connections that can store incidents for mere seconds. Short-term memories become long-term through continued recall and associations that change the nerves’ physical structure.  The adoption therapist is eager for hir continued attention.  But isn’t the adoptee simply protecting his body?   Long-term memory bases its existence on biology.  The adoption therapist brushes away my parental concern as a quibble.  Adoption is an industry, as commercial as the polyethylene commodities traveling on ship tankers from China with no regard for carbon footprints. Yes, one can leave footprints on water.  Recall Jesus.  And how his father counseled adoption as the camel’s key for passing through the needle’s eye.  I became a mother through someone else’s more than one person’s loss.  I see the rose and feel the thorn.  I cannot protect my sons and daughters.  But they will be sons and daughters: I give them the Word, and the word is the non-harrowing—and even delicious!— “Mom”!  I feel the thorn and see the rose: the crown that, when worn, begins a bleeding so lyrical it most assuredly will move the most addicted bees to leave their sodden Queen.



lynch wild

mob intolerable beliefs

To introduce “ethics” to the Lord of the Flies is to bare one’s back to more than one whip’s flagellation.  Au contraire, the latest studies show adoptees do not suffer from a lack of self-esteem.  He deserves no less than the universe, he still insists long after his bedroom became an alleyway between stacked toys, comics, sports paraphernalia and other items I do not know because they were stolen. Another study reveals that over 91% of adolescents understand the value—the honor!—of honesty.  But one-third of these sages cheat on school exams.  You are explaining this to your adopted son who survived for 13 years what might kill you in 13 hours.  You explain that ethics is the most difficult “Life Lesson” to learn because what is good is not synonymous with what gives an advantage. Unexpectedly, he decides to be kind enough not to laugh—his politeness only serves to let loose a whip for another crack.  Where flies lay their eggs, manners were debased to source yet other forms of camouflage.  You fear the weight of the large knife in your hands as you cut a melon in half. You urge him to eat more so he can grow past years of malnutrition.  You eat more of the melon, too, for its savory flesh and its desired coolness against your tongue—only to feel more cracks from the whip: how the melon’s slipperiness reminds that the feral can never be embraced because the feral will not be held.  The feral as a bubbling volcano chilling with its undeniable orange heat.



faith catapulted

perplexed coddle pamper

The one who has never been coddled was informed she would be adopted and she cried out in response, THANK YOU SO MUCH!  We mothers hate hearing this story—no child should learn to be grateful for an effect of loss.  Yes, we can understand why she is grateful.  But no child should learn to be grateful for an effect of loss.  This is but one example of how perplexity can be the most appropriate reaction. Her new mother told her the family would take her on a vacation.  She asked for a camera—perhaps what can unfold will become real for her only when affirmed by photographs, objects she can touch and recover.  She’s learned at too young an age that memory is fragile and lapses too often to desire.  Because my faith has not yet betrayed, I see her easily in my mind’s eye: frolicking on what could be a Hollywood movie set of beige sand blue water green mountain a grove of palm trees, looking back frequently at her new Mom to grin, carefully tip-toeing around the delicate sea creatures laid on sand by an ocean calmed from witnessing her eager joy, looking back frequently at me.  As I call out, Be careful.  Have fun.  Yes, it’s all lovely.



repertoire pantomime

origin Harlequin Judy

Karma sucks. A lot lies behind the new edict: You are not allowed to use these four words around your family: whatever (cue snotty tone), Stupid!, Shut. Up.  Adoption is like marriage: faith is bestowed upon some mortgage but the honeymoon inevitably betrays.  One example: the one who is eager to learn but cannot be taught.  So eager to please to retain the remaining shard of identity, she must always interrupt a teacher to exclaim variations of It’s exactly like something else I once learned on my own.  The “on my own” might not be articulated but is implicit.  She wore raspberry-colored shorts topped by a camisetta with spaghetti straps—in any other context, her outfit (edged in raspberry lace as well) would be charming.  Please observe how a mime’s repertoire inevitably bores.  Something, after all, made clowns lose their smiles.



puppet polyethylene

Neapolitan beefy entirely

Her beloved’s gaze consistently misses 100% reciprocation with her earnest eyes.  The puppet is half flesh, half plastic.  The challenge is to determine which of the moveable parts would find it impossible to arch: the beefier the belly—any expert in bioenergetics would tell ya!—the healthier the mind!  He observes the suffering of another child without making a move towards it.  Yet if he sees a happy baby he becomes its closest planet.  Whatever I have asked of him, I know with as much certainty as befits a psychopath that such task was quite … modest.  O my heart feeling the impending stroke—I am trying to avoid saying the obvious to you: my son is afire and I with all the water of the Sierras fauceting through my fingers cannot help him cannot help him cannot help him

A “haybun” is a combination of hay(na)ku and other text. The hay(na)ku (http://haynakupoetry.blogspot.com)  is a 21st century diasporic poetic form invented by the poet; its core is a tercet-based stanza with the first line being one word, the second line being two words, and the third line being three words.  Each word forming a hay(na)ku in “147 Million Orphans” is listed chronologically from an 8th grade project by the poet’s adopted son, Michael, to learn English by studying 25 new words a week.


Eileen R. Tabios has released 18 print, 4 electronic and 1 CD poetry collections, an art-essay collection, a poetry essay/interview anthology, a short story book and a collection of novels. Recipient of the Philippines' National Book Award for Poetry, she most recently released SILK EGG: COLLECTED NOVELS (Shearsman, 2011) and THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS 1998-2010 (Marsh Hawk Press, 2010). She has exhibited visual poetry and visual art in the United States and Asia and also edited, co-edited or conceptualized nine anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays.  

Ms. Tabios' body of work is unique for melding ekphrasis with transcolonialism. Her poems have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Tagalog, Japanese, Portuguese, Polish, Greek, computer-generated hybrid languages, Paintings, Video, Drawings, Visual Poetry, Mixed Media Collages, Kali Martial Arts, Music, Modern Dance and Sculpture. As part of her poetry-as-performance approach, she blogs as the
"Chatelaine", and edits Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement), a popular poetry review journal.  As a further extension of her poetics, she also founded Meritage Press, a multi-disciplinary literary and arts press based in San Francisco & St. Helena.