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Poet recalls the ‘terror’ of the first day of adoption

Watch Patrick Hicks read his poem “The Strangers” from his collection “Adoptable,” at the 2015 AWP Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis. Read the text of the poem is below.

The Strangers
on the night my internationally adopted son arrived
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.

Patrick Hicks is the author of over ten books, including “The Collector of Names,” “Adoptable,” “This London” and “The Commandant of Lubizec.” His work has appeared in numerous publications including Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, Tar River Poetry and Prairie Schooner and he has been nominated seven times for the Pushcart Prize. Hicks was recently a finalist for the High Plains Book Award, the Dzanc Short Story Collection Competition and the Gival Press Novel Award. He is the recipient of several grants, including from the Bush Artist Foundation and the South Dakota Arts Council and he is the winner of the Glimmer Train Fiction Award. Hicks teaches at Sierra Nevada College.

This video was filmed at the AWP Conference & Bookfair. Special thanks to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.