Poems & Essays

24 Aug

Fencing With a Foster Child

Toddlers to Teens No Response

She stood in the time-out corner
against the sliding glass door and bookshelf,
and wagged her finger up at me to tell me
I am not in charge.

Yellow morning sun burst 
through the glass between us and we watched   
where it landed on the self-help section 
of the bookshelf like a prayer.

She is coming to know how delirious safety feels,
when someone else leads the charge for you, 
how safe it feels to stand in your own corner 
and point your sword at anyone taller than you, 

that exhilaration of throwing words at people 
who hear the cracks in your voice and dare them 
because something tells you they are the hope 
once held in your folded hands tied to a bedpost

like a stone. You are not in charge, she said. 
Her voice was thin. I looked at her through 
the trapped light between us and closed my eyes 
for a second when she threw her arms to her waist.

I just want to tell you, she huffed, stomping her feet 
toward the light, that I would like to apologize. 
And I marveled at this five-year-old
and the words she said that seemed too big

at the same time opening my eyes
to stop waiting, to go to my knees
by that bookshelf and the light and the corner
where she dropped her sword.

Jackie McManus is the author of The Earthmover’s Daughter and the forthcoming chapbook, Related to Loon. She is published in Sky Island Journal, VoiceCatcher, Cathexis Northwest, Thimble Literary Magazine, 
among others. She divides her time between Wisconsin and Washington.

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