Reading Matters “I Am” by Michelle Scally-Clarke

(In which the author and me explore some painful family memories, talk about adoption, feel empowered by dual heritage and learn to sing our song)

This was a tough read for me. No point pretending: where lives intersect there can be a curious pain.

But don’t let my experience challenge you, above all, I loved the eloquence of the author’s longing for union and the search for home and the striving to learn, live, feel and be an expression of Self. We can all identify with that.

I was Born to Sing My Song

Anyone who has ever lost their self due to circumstance of birth will understand that regardless, we and all and I was,

” I was born to sing my song”

The back cover tells us:

“Using the fragments of her own memory, her poetry and extracts from her adoption files, Michelle (Scally Clarke) rebuilds the picture of “self” that allows her to transcend adversity and move forward to become the woman she was born to be”

credit Benji Reid

Intersecting

Here is where our stories intersect:

Diana (Di) was adopted by our Mum in June 1972 aged three.

I was 7 and also adopted in 1965, aged six weeks.

Di was black.

I was white (-ish – white mother/Asian/turkish father but to all intents and purposes reassuringly white I guess, for mum and dad)

Michelle was black and adopted by a white family.

Di was black and adopted by a white family – my family.

Like Michelle Scally Clarke, we became a family of six siblings (although this shows just my immediate sisters and a summer nanny: Philippa)

It doesn’t happen anymore as far as I can tell and for obvious reasons – the only plus I can see for any, is relief from a hopeless chaotic lifestyle but beyond that, this was unchartered waters.

Adoption rips apart a child from his/her self and it can take a long time to find the way back home. This is the gift of the primal wound.

Mummy Irene

Di arrived from a foster home in Bradford where she had been looked after by “Mummy Irene”.

I use the term “looked after” lightly, for the Di I remember then was covered in flea bites and smelt sour. When our backs were turned she stole the dog’s food from his bowl and ate it. I have a vague memory of visiting an overcrowded house in Bradford and being ushered out the door quickly by a woman. Fleeting colours of peach and dark brown on the hall way, crimson patterned tiles on the floor. A sense of dread.

After that, I didn’t understand but became profoundly unsettled, frightened of this disruptive influence in my already unsteady life.

Performance

I was lucky enough to watch Michelle perform at a story telling evening last year above a small wine bar in Leeds. I loved the rhythm and vibrancy of her speaking word and was moved to tears by some of her lines and expression particularly from one verse that spoke of her family and gratitude.

She did not see me crying in the front row.

“An adoption Order has an effect extending far beyond the merely legal. It has the most profound, personal, emotional, psychological., social and in many cases cultural and religious consequences. Adoptees have to live with those consequences for the rest of their lives”

I copied that from a file at work relating to another child taken into care and placed for adoption.

I stole the words from the Judge who spoke them but do not credit him here for obvious reasons.

Stolen Words/Life

Here is a section of words I have stolen from Michelle:

“My poetry, my identity, my One Love vibe and my adoption are my blessings, I choose to be a survivor not a victim. I choose to take the walk back to self, healing my pieces, collecting my fragments and splinters in order to begin my story, in order to be the woman I was born to be”

A journey from self-disgust to self -love, a journey through stories to truths through poetry. A voyage back to the the unknown self, a walk from child to woman to mother. Here begins me, my identity and my affirmation. This is my story.”

“I was born in a cold country, my blood my spirit is warm , I know a truth that live in my soul.

Fear tastes bitter. Looking back on my life, sorting out my pains and all my gains. I’m growin into a woman now. My spirit as a watcher has now joined with her owner and I feel my times are at one fitted, connected for me to graps walk forward.”

Chapeltown

My adoptive Dad was born in Chapel town (on Spencer Place in the 1920s) – its very different now but I love the colour and cadence of Michelle’s Chapeltown recounted here:

“There will be nowhere else on earth that is Chapeltown for me. I love her trees, her fine houses and her mosques and churches. I love the streets, Cowper Street and Leopold Street where we were taught to dance. I love the pavements and the cobblestones up and down the lanes. The ones that went wet and slidy from the huge leaves that could make you slam down, slide and break your arse which I did to varying degrees in the late summer nights after drink had licked and kicked me….”

Single Parent

On being a single parent Michelle writes

“We had massive laughs and loved our children with all our truths”

That’s how I remember parts of my own experience – I love the simplicity of writing and the wholeness of emotion shared.

It happens time and again in her writing.

Black

Later and in the closing part of the book I happened upon some words which sum up something I had held close to my own heart all my life only I hadn’t realised it – how much I have identified and held to myself my own dual heritage and how much I have longed for my father to become known so that I could birth myself whole.

How Great Thou Art

And I love these words and dedicate this poem by Michelle to my beloved sons and daughter

Was it worth the read and the painful memories awakened.

Yes but more so I loved the performance, live theatre, poetry is beautiful when it works, electric.

Go find Michelle and watch her perform – you wont regret it

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