Umbrella Movement / September 2016 (Issue 33)

The Borrowed Children

by Kate Rogers

After "The Blood of the Children" by Shirley Geok-lin Lim
My grief was asleep
until the students
camped out on the highway
that crossed the city,
swayed to Imagine—that song
I play my students
to teach the first
conditional, that song—
about hope.
My grief was asleep
until they did homework
on the pavement, danced all night,
eyes open in the dark.

My grief was asleep
until I saw my students gassed
by police who used to
take their hands,
lead them home when
they were lost.
My grief was asleep
until clouds drifted
down from the mountains,
submerged the city.

Two girls who loved words in
my classroom,
tasted fog on the road,
on the subway platform.
They couldn’t breathe.

I saw thirteen year olds,
who wanted to speak
to their leaders
and be heard.
I saw eighteen year olds pushed
hard against metal barriers.
I could not sleep
when they were beaten
by gangs of men
who think children must
taste the bitter iron
of their own blood.

I saw the students link arms
and call,

Do You Hear the People Sing?

My grief was awake,
and I was weeping for
my own loss.

After the tents and umbrellas
were cleared, and cars
took back the road I accepted
Cantonese in my English classroom,
stopped joking about being
the language police.

My grief was awake.
For fifteen years I’d borrowed
children to fill my heart
for the ones I’d lost:

the termination my lover
replaced with a puppy
the day I returned to our house
alone in a taxi;
then the fetus lost
on a mountain path.

My punishment will be
to lie awake, count the students
I’ve taught instead of sheep,
so many asking questions
unwelcome in the country
they inherit.

My punishment will be
to leave this city,
but never stop dreaming
of the children I lost.

Editors' note:
An earlier and shorter version of "The Borrowed Children"
was published in
Eastlit (January 2016).

 Kate Rogers's new poetry collection, Foreign Skin, debuted with Toronto's Aeolus House Press in 2015. In the summer of 2016, she was a featured reader for the Toronto poetry reading series, Hot Sauced Words; at the League of Canadian Poets new members reading, Toronto, and at the Kingston, Ontario, ArtFest. Rogers is also co-editor of the OutLoud Too anthology (MCCM 2014) and the world poetry anthology, Not a Muse: the Inner Lives of Women (Haven 2009). Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian, Quixotica: Poems East of La Mancha, Eastlit, Asia Literary Review, Cha, Morel, The Goose: a Journal of Arts, Environment and Culture, Kyoto Journal, ASIATIC: the Journal of the Islamic University of Malaysia, Orbis International and Contemporary Verse II. [Cha profile]
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