Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Assembling Origins

While it's a slightly quixotic gesture, almost ten years ago, I had the opportunity to return to Laos for the first time in 30 years and search for my long-lost family. I was successful in finding my mother's side of the family. They are living in California and I still remain in touch with them.

However, due to a number of factors, my father's identity and his side of the family remain an enigma. While I am inclined to accept my mother's viewpoint: "He didn't want to be a part of your life 30 years ago, he doesn't get to be a part of it now," the completist, the historian within me says I am obligated to be neutral and at least hear the other side, although it is my understanding he has since passed away.

In 2008, my sister found this photograph and sent it to me. It was the first image that may or may not be a picture, at some point in time, of my biological father. A transcultual adoptee's life being what it is, until final, definitive confirmation is established, I am obligated to consider this part of the case still fully open.

In theory, these are some of my long-lost relatives on my father's side, but the photo was given to me without any identifying features or method of contact, so they remain an abstraction. They could still be living out in the countryside or they could be in a suburb of Vientiane. Who can be certain?

From one point of view, this experience and this separation does shape a significant amount of my writing and my sense of the world. It constantly obliges me to ask: What is family, what is memory? What does it mean when others have control of what you can know about yourself? To discover truths will not necessarily change who you are, what you value, who you love. But when others decide for you, well. What can one say?

As a poet I have often taught my students that this is the role of poetry. To see the uncertainties of the cosmos and not be paralyzed by it, both at a macrocosmic level and a microcosmic level.

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