Just One Picture by Betsy Kassoff

I wanted one picture.
It seemed only fair that if I promised
to parent this child until death do us part
that I should have a picture
before I met her and took her home.
There was no picture to be had. Only numbers.
The diameter of her head, her height and weight.
Fifteen years later, that baby is a young woman,
going back to China without me.

She will walk through crowds in bustling cities,
stand in line at tourist sites, stay in hotels,
and never know if the woman who brushes her arm,
takes her ticket, serves her noodles
is her mother, her aunt, or from her village.

And when one woman hears there are foreign Chinese teenagers
speaking English and Cantonese in the dining room,
will she wipe her hands off with a towel and stand in the door of the kitchen,
look over faces, imagine she sees her mother’s eyebrows,
her father’s mouth, as she juggles numbers in her mind,
the baby was born in the Year of the Ox,
now the Year of the Dragon, could that be her, or this one?

More likely my daughter will never meet this other mother,
the one who didn’t choose her for reasons that are easy to guess
but impossible to know;
the way none of us really choose.
We don’t have pictures of what is to come
or of the lives we have left behind,
all we have left are the numbers,
the dates of birth and death.

She was small but perfect in the basket
left at the steps of the police station
as the mother rings the bell and runs,
her milk lets down at the sound of the baby’s cry.
She was small but perfect
when they put her in my arms,
making up my mind that she is mine,
my tears mingling with hers as she wails.
On this day in this year at this hour all our lives change,
and I do have a picture of both of us crying
that someone else took and sent me—but I don’t remember who.




Betsy Kassoff practices and writes professionally in the fields of clinical psychology and gender diversity. She is a psychologist, mother, teacher, psychoanalyst, lesbian activist, and writer living in San Francisco.



(Front page image via)

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