Letter to My
Chinese Daughter
by Laurie Junkins

All I have of you is this photograph
taken when you were six months old.
The nannies dressed you in lucky red,
faded dragons leaping on cotton,
Mandarin collar folded around your neck
like paper wrapping a lily stem.
ayi’s hand holds you steady,
her fingers spread across your narrow chest.

Your life there unfurls in my mind
like a watercolor scroll.  I see you sheltered
against winter under piles of padded quilts
and set sweating and red-cheeked
on a bamboo mat in summer’s swelter.
You’re one of dozens of dark-haired girls
in a stark room, cribs two-deep in tidy rows.
Days slide by as long and blank
as the white-tiled hallway you play in.

You don’t know you’re loved by strangers,
that you wait for me there, curled
in the shadows of the Lingnan Mountains.  Here
on the other side of the world,
trees reach out to a gray sky
and in frozen earth, crocuses slumber.
I celebrate your birthday
without you.

by Laurie Junkins

They take us to meet our daughters
in a coach meant for tour groups eager to spend
money on jade, silk, and pearls,
to gorge on “authentic” Chinese food
quietly made for American tastes.

But we are not tourists, crammed into seats
set too close together but wrapped
with starched covers like freshly made
beds.  We careen along rain-soaked streets,
our driver honking as we weave our way

between cars, bicycles, and buzzing motorbikes
with bare-headed riders.  We clutch
backpacks stuffed with diapers, plastic toys,
dry Cheerios carried six thousand miles.
We gaze at Nanning through rain-dotted windows.

At the office of Civil Affairs, where our daughters
wait, squirming and fussy in the arms
of their nannies in a sterile, granite lobby,
our names are called one by one.  We rush
forward, look into faces we’ve seen only

in photographs, count fingers and toes
as if they’d just been born.  We can only
imagine how we’ll sing our own mothers’
lullabies to these babies wrapped
in hand-knitted blankets from America,

laying claim the only way we know.
We rock them, feed them Gerber’s mashed peas,
coo to them in West Coast English, leave China
behind but for photos in an album, and
a street-market scroll on the nursery wall.

by Laurie Junkins

We sit face-to-face, my daughter and I,
on a board-hard bed in a hotel room
in China.  We’ve been family for an hour now.
Her tiny frame still cocooned
in padded layers of orphanage clothes, she stares at me,
unsmiling, her eyes like dark stars.

I offer a yellow plastic cup as a toy.
She grips it in one hand, doesn’t let go
even in sleep, for days.  I sing to her,
a lullaby, and her eyes fill, then overflow.
Soon she is wailing, back arching.
I only know to hold her and pace in the light of sky
pressing against the window.

Her father and I woo her like a bride,
congee at meals, and morsels
of tofu and sweet squash.  We show her
white ducks in the park and spring’s first
fragrant lilacs.  In the museum of Chinese history,
we beam as elderly locals coo at her features
delicate as winter violets.  She smiles now,
forgets for a whole hour that we’re still strangers.
In the gift shop we buy her a watercolor painting
to remind her of China.  Its quail,
our guide explains, means courage.

by Laurie Junkins

When your sleeping wail drifts
down the moonlit hallway to my room
like the winding smoke of a snuffed candle
do you dream of curling beneath the heartbeat
of the mother you will never know?

When you stand still in the papaya light
of late afternoon, toys forgotten, and stare
as if looking back through a dark mirror,
do you see her leaving you
nestled in a box near the bridge?
Do you still feel her breath
warm on your face
as she whispers good-bye?

When you look into my blue eyes
with your black eyes, do you re-live
the day your nanny dressed you in the pre-dawn,
lucky girl, lucky girl,
the long, bumpy bus ride
through rice fields, past oxen
and families bent to the harvest,
then how she tucked you
into my stranger’s arms with nothing
but your layers of new clothes?

Do you remember our spring-moon faces
glowing over you, our words falling
on your face like rain, and the rain falling
as we left your nanny waving goodbye?
In the night, in your dreams,
does the rain still fall?


Laurie Junkins is currently an MFA student at Whidbey Writer’s
Workshop, working fiendishly on her thesis manuscript.  She has
most recently been published in
Literary Mama, Shark Reef, and
Welcome Home Magazine.  She lives in New Jersey with her
husband and three children.  

On “Letter to My Chinese Daughter,” “Bus Ride: Nanning, China,”
“First Days,” and “Remember”:    
In January of 2003, my husband and I traveled to the People’s
Republic of China to adopt a baby girl from Guangxi Province.  
It was a life-changing experience for all of us, most of all for our
daughter, who lost everything she’d ever known in a matter of
moments.  I often work through my thoughts and feelings on the
events in my life by writing about them, but the adoption was
such an overwhelming subject and so fraught with complexity, I
didn’t know where to begin.  When I entered my MFA program
in 2005, I was given the tools and guidance to begin separating
and writing about the various strands of this intense experience,
and what resulted was a series of ten poems on the subjects of our
time in China and the adoption of our daughter.  Although some
details were changed to protect her privacy, one hopes that, as
an adult, she will find these poems enlightening rather than
invasive.  It is an issue that any writer of personal experiences
involving others must grapple with.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 3, Number 1
(Spring 2008)

Copyright © 2008
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.

Bus Ride: Nanning, China
First Days