SD Poets You Should Know: Patrick Hicks

Creative writing professor at Augustana University, Patrick Hicks published a touching and honest portrayal of adoption in 2014, his book Adoptable (Salmon Press). One of my favorite poems from that book is up at The Poetry Foundation:

The Strangers
By Patrick Hicks

After we picked you up at the Omaha airport,
we clamped you into a new car seat
and listened to you yowl
beneath the streetlights of Nebraska.

Our hotel suite was plump with toys,
ready, we hoped, to soothe you into America.
But for a solid hour you watched the door,
shrieking, Umma, the Korean word for mother.

Once or twice you glanced back at us
and, in this netherworld where a door home
had slammed shut forever, your terrified eyes
paced between the past and the future.

Umma, you screamed, Umma!
But your foster mother back in Seoul never appeared.

Your new mother and I lay on the bed,
cooing your birth name,
until, at last, you collapsed into our arms.

In time, even terror must yield to sleep.

What I’m drawn to here is the speaker’s willingness to imagine what it feels like to be his new child, even when that empathy must admit that being a child of new parents is terrifying. I also like the precise verbs here: clamped, yowl, soothe, shriek, collapsed, yield. The story of this poem is the story of its verbs, the progression from a protection that sounds frightening (“clamped”) to a protection that sounds like surrender (“collapsed,” “yield”). And I love that the speaker doesn’t take credit for soothing the child—he credits “sleep,” not himself, and as the parent of a toddler, I can say that sleep is much more effective at calming children than parental blandishments.

Featured image by Nathan Walker under the creative commons license on Flickr. Post by Barbara Duffy.

Read about more South Dakota Poets.

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