Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
Poems By a 16-Year-Old Adoptee
By Liana O’Rourke
My name is Liana O’Rourke and I am a 16-year-old Chinese adoptee from Chicago. The first part of the following poem is from my perspective, and then the second is half from my birthmother’s perspective.
Most people have a story, starting the day they were born
But the beginning of my storybook, that special page was torn
I do not know my given name
I don’t know who or what to blame
But this page that was torn from the start
Was also torn from my heart.
The only way for my book to be finished
The only way the meaning won’t be diminished
The only way it can go back on the shelf
Is if I write the page myself.
As much I want this part to be mine,
The beginning of this story, I cannot define
It’s part of someone else’s book
It’s something I can’t overlook
Only she knows the start of this tale
When I try to tell it, I always fail
Now all I can do is think of what she would say
How she would remember it like it was yesterday
I want to imagine the world that she saw
And try to see her efforts, instead of her flaws
Sit down in her chair, and think with all my heart
And write everything down, right from the start:
“When I found out you were coming,
and I knew you’d have to leave
Wet tears ran down my face,
and I dried them with my sleeve
I sang a song to you each night
Before you had to leave my sight
Before you came out into the world
Before you became someone else’s little girl
Before my heart began to sink
Before adoption papers were written down in ink
Before a piece of me was gone
Before I admitted I’d have to move on
After I knew you could have been mine
After I knew I could have seen you shine
After I knew you were something I’d have to hide
After I became your star to guide
Your story wasn’t written out well
It might be one you won’t want to tell
I knew I could have written the rest
But I wanted your story to be its best
I don’t know what the rest of it will be
But I’ll always remember the time when you were part of me.”
* * * *
The following is a poem that I wrote for my Honors English class last year as a freshman.
Everyone always says “Be yourself and that’s enough.”
I used to believe that.
One day at recess in 2nd grade, a boy turned to me and stretched his eyes horizontally to mock my beautiful almond-shaped eyes, so deep you could drown in them.
“Can you even see me?” he asked.
I pretended not to understand the question.
In gym class, I didn’t get picked for the team
Because I wasn’t the same race as them.
My skin was a different shade, my eyes a different shape, my body from a different place.
Still, I couldn’t understand why just being me wasn’t enough to be a part of their group.
I guess I wasn’t white enough.
In fourth grade, I started playing violin.
I told people I loved the sound of it, how the notes lifted
me up and took me to a place where I was free.
They told me, “Maybe that’s why all Asians play an instrument.”
I moved up a level into advanced math.
And heard someone say “Of course she did. She’s Asian.”
I had taken 8 years of Chinese cultural dance.
I spent my Sunday afternoons surrounded by people who looked just like me.
I performed dances in Chinatown and ate dumplings with chopsticks.
But people still laughed and said I was a banana – yellow on the outside but white on the inside – still not Asian enough.
Every year for Thanksgiving I go to a big family dinner with more than 100 Irish relatives.
We joke about how everyone’s last name starts with O’.
It never fails to remind me that it’s my name that’s Irish, and not me.
My straight, silky black hair gets lost in a sea of red, bouncy curls.
But no matter how much green I wear on St. Patrick’s Day,
Or how many potatoes I eat
I’ll never be as Irish as them, never Irish enough.
I have never felt enough for either side of the world.
I’m always “the one with the Irish last name” or “that other Asian girl”.
I’m Chinese-American, I love to play my violin and I am good at math.
But I’m also an actress, a singer, a dancer, a badminton player,
and a high school freshman trying to stumble through my day with a smile.
Is that enough for you?
Doesn’t matter, it’s enough for me.
Liana O’Rourke was fourteen months old when she was adopted from Hunan China. She has written poetry about adoption, her birthmother, and racism for ten years. Poetry helps her express emotions she never knew she had.