Published on May 27th, 2021 | by Cheryl Klein


Alva Kims from Cameroon Asks a Question

The girl poses in front of silk flowers,
gold buttons on her overalls,
butterfly barrettes in her afro puffs.
Lovely daughter for adoption, 
says the caption.
She looks like someone’s
loved daughter.
DM if interested.

I am and so I do,
and the girl is in Cameroon.
Im giving her up
for adoption because 
I can’t take proper care
of her since the father
abandoned me.

We are not able to adopt internationally,
I’m afraid, I reply, wishing them luck.

My wishes are a dead fish.

Afraid? she says.

It’s easy to list my fears,
the soundtrack of my life.
That my only child will remain so
that my cancer will return
or sink its talons into someone I love
that I’m secretly a three-eyed fish
or a dull stone
that the strength of my wanting
will break the world
that war will roost in our sunny city
and we’ll deserve it
that I’m the only employee
who slacks off.

But she asked why, not of what,
and there I’m stymied.
Is it all just evolutionary math?
Adrenaline and cortisol 
warning of tigers real and imagined,
some rooted impulse to stay alive
in this world of genocide and traffic
tumors and lost passwords
tyrants and keto diets.
A hearty why to any of it,
but here we are.

Say the mother is a scammer.
Adoption is a suspension
bridge between the first and third worlds,
the architecture easy to criticize
if you don’t have to cross it.
Say the mother is a scammer,
the girl someone else’s baby,
and she just needs the money.

Because a man really did leave her.
Because there’s no good work to be found,
even for men, because look over there
at America, all bikinis and big talk.
Because why shouldn’t she have a little
something for herself. 
The French and British took what they wanted,
the Black children farm cocoa beans.
Why not set up a PayPal.

The difference between scam and reality
is the shortest bridge. I begrudge no one
and everyone. We’re all caught
in the same shimmering net.
I know it’s the net we should worship,
not a sky we’ll never see.

My wishes are a writhing fish.

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About the Author

Cheryl Klein’s column, “Hold it Lightly,” appears monthly(ish) in MUTHA. She is the author of Crybaby (out in 2022 from Brown Paper Press), a memoir about wanting a baby and getting cancer instead. She also wrote a story collection, The Commuters (City Works Press) and a novel, Lilac Mines (Manic D Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Blunderbuss, The Normal School, Razorcake, Literary Mama, and several anthologies. Her MUTHA column “Onesie, Never Worn” was selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2022. She blogs about the intersection of art, life and carbohydrates at breadandbread.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cherylekleinla.

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