Not the rejected lies of the New York Foundling
home, not the adoptive widow of two names,
one of devious spelling,
not the dog tag pinned to the plaid dress
for the train ride to Missouri, but the surname
work like a shoulder brand
on the skin of the natural mother,
When I went in my black robes through the hot
streets of the city, a young nun
pale as the star I followed
led to the desk of a three-faced guardian. One
face called me Sister to my face. One was
motherly, "Oh my dear, I can't risk the wrong
information." One, older than the order, nervous,
bit the sentence off
on a fragment of Irish history.
I couldn't get past the gate. I recognized
the road I was on
led to heaven or hell. Either was barred,
date too early for the name,
a Closed File. I should tell my mother to come.
Back home in Oregon, sixty-nine, wanting to know,
not wanting to know, she waited.
I crossed the continent angry, three thousand
miles of featureless plain.
Mother, now that you're gone, I'm the same,
swaddled no more in the habit.
Whatever it is that drives us — bad blood,
the face in the unlighted window,
I'm bound to get it straight. If he knocked her down
in the stinking hold of a ship and raped her,
if she followed him out of the church
into the oldest garden under moonstone limbs
of the sycamore, it's too late
to cover her tracks.
Whoever she was, whatever ties,
here is my claim. I need to come into my own.