diary of old and new books #5

The Adoption Papers

Title: The Adoption Papers Author: Jackie Kay Publisher: Bloodaxe Years elapsed: 30 Representative quote:  ‘Outside, Edinburgh is soaked in sunshine / I talk to myself walking past the castle. / So, so so, I was a midnight baby after all.’

I pass a sunken week. I can’t draw the things I want to draw nearer to me nearer to me and my father is getting further away, slowly. He has begun to wander, sometimes late at night, and was earlier this week escorted home by the police after becoming distressed on a bus travelling to nowhere I have ever heard of him going. I find myself, as he cannot find himself, wondering whether there was once a friend along this particular bus route, but his past is something about which I know nothing. One of his friends who lives much nearer to him than I do and has a habit of blaming me for things related to his care or living situation that, because I am not an institution, I should not be blamed for has this week been in touch to say that I should be doing more and also that anything I do will be ‘too late’. I experience this as a cruelty even as I know from his social worker and the psychiatric consultant for older people—with whom I am in regular contact—that the accusation bears no relation to the truth. My role has been misunderstood. I remind myself of this daily as I scroll through the pages of housing care dot com.

This week I read a lot of essays, fragments of books here and there. Watch a lot of terrible TV. I think it was Monday when I read Jackie Kay’s The Adoption Papers, but the week’s been a bit of a haze. Lavinia and Eley have both urged different people in our class to read different books by Jackie Kay, but this, her debut, is the one I felt most compelled to read first. Flickering between three narrative voices—that of the adoptive mother, the birth mother, and the daughter—the book weaves an autobiographical story of a black child’s adoption by a white Scottish couple who, in advance of their home visit, cover up or stash away all of their communist paraphernalia. This is probably a boring thing to say, but I’m cooling on the lyrical ‘I’, and aside from this diary find for myself that I want less and less to write in that mode, to tell the silence. There’s an obvious imperative for marginalised people to testify to their own particular experience of whatever cruelty the world is doling out that week, to disclose the self as a way of demonstrating authenticity and this collection—perhaps because of the way the ‘I’ is destabilised by the two other voices with which it’s interlaced—seems to use its own specific register to work against that prescriptive mode to create something deeply compelling for anyone interested in, for instance, the politics of interracial adoption, queer people in general, the predominance of the capital F Family.  There’s a poem in the second section of the book, comprised of poems told in the voice of queer men, which contains a funny, if profoundly painful, interaction between a confused and upset mother and her son who likes to wear tights and a ‘bright fucking red’ feather boa, ‘I know what they call you, transvite.’ she says bitterly, her mistake the sort of mistake queers can metamorphose into a shining talisman. In their attendance to the way lovers love and hurt one another, often in fairly selfish ways, the poems about lovers remind me a bit of Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons but it doesn’t ever feel imitative. It’s a collection about the way identity is formed from the outside in as much as it is the inside out and about kinship rather than Family, what is made rather than inherited, and I’d commend it to anyone.