Thursday, August 3, 2023

Learning the Names

Hello Poetry Friday Friends,

I am back from a trip to San Francisco with my sweetie. 

This trip gave me great opportunities for writing to Catherine's August prompt:

        "Robin Wall Kimmerer teaches us that “It's a sign         of respect and connection to learn the name of         someone else, a sign of disrespect to ignore it…         Learning the names of plants and animals is a         powerful act of support for them. When we learn         their names and their gifts, it opens the door to         reciprocity.” Look closely at the flowers, birds,         trees, or other natural features in your neighborhood         (or if you’re traveling, a new-to-you species)         and write a poem about your chosen species.         Free choice of format."

A priority visit for me in the San Francisco area was Angel Island. I taught Social Studies for years before becoming a school librarian. It amazed me that I only learned of Angel Island long after I had started teaching. I wanted to see the place for myself.

Angel Island is the Ellis Island of our American West. From 1910 until World War II, it detained immigrants, mostly from Asia, until their immigration status cleared them access to the mainland. For many, Angel Island was a prison for long stretches of time during an intense period of xenophobia. Some immigrants never made it to the mainland. During World War II the island held prisoners of war and interned Japanese Americans as well as diseased and quarantined patients.

What fascinates me about the barracks at Angel Island is poetry. Dozens and dozens of poems in Asian script, mostly Chinese, cover the walls. The US Immigration Service saw the writing as graffiti and painted the walls over and over again. The poetry always returned.

Much of the poetry is written by men and relays homesickness, desperation, and despair at being held behind fences and bars after a long, journey to America. Translations of many poems were provided for readers.

My photos

Once I arrived at the US Park office and paid my entrance fee, I kind of froze. I wanted to see the historical aspect of this place but the deeply personal experience of those connected to Angel Island isn't mine exactly.

Let me explain...

Three of my children are adopted from Asia. At the time of bringing my children into our family, my only motivation was to love a child as my create a family. As the kids grow, we continuously work through the joys and pains of interracial adoption.

Through the years of my family's experience, I've learned that not all experience is mine to share. My children's thoughts, feelings, and experiences are theirs and harm can be done if I don't respect how they wish to hold those very personal threads in their lives. I'm keenly aware of this as I enter the Angel Island barrack museum.

I decided that my visit would be one of tribute to my children's ancestors. I would hold them in my thoughts as I walked through the museum.

By the time I was ready to leave, I had lots of photos on my phone and lots of conversation in my head with unknown ancestors as I came across a California Poppy so bright and smiley at my feet. How dare this flower look so happy inside the fence of such grim history?

I used one of the Chinese poetry forms described in the museum (4 lines of 2 couplets. 5 or 7 syllables per line) as well as some of the medicinal properties of the California poppy discovered by Native Americans (googled by me) to create a cluster of poems.

For more Inkling takes on Catherine's spectacular prompt, please see:

Reading to the Core
Reflections on the Teche
My Juicy Little Universe
Nix the Comfort Zone
A(noth)er Year of Reading (Also, our Poetry Friday host)

The word on the padlet this week is RIPPLE.


  1. You have such a beautiful, wise heart, Linda. How fortunate your four children were, that you mothered and nurtured them. That they can't outgrow your love.

  2. Linda, I did not know about Angel Island and it saddens me. Thank you for sharing the information and for your poetry writing. I can see that you were into the researching aspect of poetry once again. It is exciting to learn more as we continue to write. Ripple is a wonderful addition to your padlet.

  3. Wow. Linda, your description of your visit to Angel Island is incredible. And the poem inspired by the paradoxical beauty of the California poppy in a place of such pain and suffering is haunting. "...these fences/holding back our dreams" is a line I won't be able to forget.

  4. Such an interesting post, Linda! Your poems are full of emotion and hauntingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  5. There is such power and grief and understanding in your poems and your prose. You are so wise to be gathering these thoughts without making them belong to your children. They will make their own. It's difficult as a parent to come to a point of letting go and letting our children be who they are, not who we want them to be. I'd like to hear more about this trip.

  6. What wisdom & respect you showed for your children's heritage, Linda. I have been to Angel Island with my students & we also were stunned by the abundance of poetry! We sat outside & wrote our reflections, as you have done so poignantly, not resisting the poppy but embracing it. Beauty found in desolation! ~ Linda B.

  7. I love this idea of respect via names. It ties in with much I have learned and respect. Thank you for teaching me about Angel Island and the poetry there. Fascinating and challenging us to do better, also elevating the importance of poetry.

  8. Oh, Linda, breathtaking. Thank you for sharing your back story. Your respectful description of your experience at Angel Island is beautiful and appreciated. The poppy and the line about "someday my children's children / will walk among these flowers" is so poignant.

  9. This is powerful, Linda. Thank you for sharing all of this--Angel Island and your own process and poem.

  10. Thanks for your heartfelt powerful poem Linda, I can feel the weight of it, love your sensitive collage image, and hearing about Angel Island.

  11. So powerful, thoughtful, compassionate - thank you for sharing all of this, Linda. xo

  12. I recall reading about this during my time in NYC. I found it fascinating. Thank you, Linda for reconnecting me to this piece of history that sings of poetry's power. your poem pays a respectful homage to those who endured this deprivation and incarceration.

  13. Well, now I'm crying. How beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time. I really love that there is poetry everywhere. It really says something when people can write poetry in their darkest times.

  14. Wow, Linda. This is powerful. I have not yet been to Angel Island but I read about it in Chris Baron's book, The Magical Imperfect. I feel a poignancy in your poem.

  15. Linda, thank you for taking the time to share your complicated experience of Angel Island, as a poet, American, and adoptive mom. Your three stanzas are situated in 3 different "places" giving perspective from each. Your last stanza is simply stunning.

  16. That's a beautiful post, Linda. It's so respectful of your family and of the place you visited. One day I hope to see Angel Island.

  17. Wow. What an honor to your children's heritage. Rich in your description, your intention, and your awareness that significance was everywhere and not to be overlook. All of this you expressed in your beautiful poem.

  18. What a deeply moving post, Linda. You've written so eloquently of your thoughts and experience and then encapsulated so much within your hauntingly beautiful poem. Wow!

  19. How did I miss this? What a post! What a poem!!


Friendly, positive comments and feedback are always welcome here. Please let me know I'm not just whistling in the dark!