“The child stealer has dirty fingernails and her palm smells of dog. She wears a gray duster coat and it drags on the ground where she walks. The coat is hand-knit and we get lost in her skeins. We don’t know if we are in the sleeve or if we are in the skirt. In the evening, she tells stories and we wait for the honey to fall from her mouth.”
………………….-from Faith S. Holsaert’s “The Child Stealers”
I have been attending community poetry workshops with a Durham group, Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, run by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. My poem “The Child Stealers” was written after our group studied Lucille Clifton‘s “shape shifter poems,” which speak of Clifton’s childhood sexual abuse. “The Child Stealers” comes from my adult daughter’s many-decades struggle with a history of abuse which she didn’t disclose until much later, as well as her struggle with mental illness. “The Child Stealers” themselves come from my own nightmares and horrors, particularly the long coats and dirty fingernails. The horses are only carriers of the horror and their images are those imagined by myself as a city-bound child who loved horses. For a mother, the grief is that, whatever the cause, the remembered innocent child has been hurt; the tension is to remember the resourcefulness and resilience which reside in that child.
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