We Are The Capables: Words of Resilience for the Orphaned. {poetry}


The following poem is meant to express the damage that is done to our spirits when we label and judge one another.

This poem is seeded in my belief that words can harm us or heal us.

When we’re raising and loving people who have been orphaned, fostered, and adopted — or anyone who has felt the gut-punch of abandonment — it’s vital that we’re aware of the words that we use toward them, as well as the words that may have been used around them at some point in their life, words that have created their current sense of identity.

This poem is a reflection of a combination of experiences: my own experience as a child removed and placed into foster care in the United Kingdom, along with a recent experience I had in London while touring an art display.

The display consisted of little button-down shirts, belonging to once orphaned children, that were hanging on a white wall. Each shirt had a label on the collar with the diminishing words that were spoken to these orphans, words that reduced their young spirits.

I believe that working with the voice of the inner child is a powerful exercise along the healing journey. I call my inner child my “first me.” This is the me I was before removal. Getting back to that child has been transformational.

The written word has always been my key to accessing her voice. Poetry has given my “first me” the power to be heard and the strength to release any limiting labels in exchange for limitless truth.


Labels: the sticky residue of the past,
Those leftovers of being left.
An innocent child stripped naked of worth.
Bare feet on a cold floor,
Arms shivering in fear.
“Here’s what you’ll wear now,” they said.
Opening the closet of shame, we peeked in.
“Anything to cover up,” we whispered to each other.
Dwarfed by clothing that didn’t fit,
Little hands were grasping for identity,
As we stared at the labels on our shirts.
“These are your new names now,” they laughed as they listed them off,
“Don’t bother trying…
You won’t ever be anything..
You’re not a little girl anymore…
It’s all your fault as usual…
You’re a liar…”
Five children obediently wearing their clothes of shame,
Labels of limitation around their necks.
I’m still standing naked and alone.
“What’s my name?” I asked.
“Your mother’s not capable of looking after you,” was the reply.
I wanted to disappear.
To disassociate.
To dissolve into some other place and into some other life where the clothes might have a kinder fit…
Where the clothes were clean.
Where the clothes smelled of a lavender-scented dream.
Where the clothes weren’t soiled.
Where the clothes could be mine, and not the hand-me-downs of another orphaned child.
“Did you hear me? I said that your mother’s not capable!” They smiled their sinister smiles.
I closed my eyes.
I wanted to scream.
I wanted to spit and spew all over their labels of shame.
I squinted my eyes and tried, with all of my might, to calm the swirling storm of lies in my head.
Not capable.
Not able.
Not reliable.
Not acceptable.
I cupped my hands over my ears.
Still, the mocking continued.
Mockingbirds. Mocking words.
Shitting on my self-worth.
Pecking holes through my spirit.
“No one will want you, stupid little bastard child,” the squawking continued,
“You’re difficult to place…
You’ll never have a better life…
Who would want a girl like you?”
Tears dripped from my cheeks.
“Stiff upper lip,” they ordered.
I bit my tongue until it bled.
Swallowing my blood like a bird to nectar…
Then, for some reason that I cannot explain, I lifted my chin and imagined myself with the wings of a hero.
I saw myself cloaked, not in shame, but in a hero’s cape:
My cape-of-able.
Capable. Able…
Of being loved. Lovable. Love-able.
Capable of surviving the labels until the day I might learn how to heal them.
Capable of releasing myself from their sticky residue.
Capable of loving myself,
And of eating not on the leftovers of abandonment, but of feasting on life’s abundant promise.
I felt this promise as an orphaned child.
It’s what kept me going.
It’s what sustained me.
The promise nurtured me.
Mothered me.
My cape-of-able became my strength.
My coat of many colors.
My sisters and my brothers.
My voice.
My choice.
To speak.
To break free.
To believe that I am — as all orphaned, fostered, and adopted people are — worthy of dignity and of embrace.
We are not the labels.
We are the capables.
We are the capables!


Michelle Madrid-Branch has felt poetic expression pulsing through her veins since childhood. A ward of state in the United Kingdom, she was adopted internationally and removed from all that she knew. Poetry has been the compass navigating her home to a place of reunion within as she’s pioneered her way back to wholeness. Today, she serves as a catalyst for truth within the adoption and foster care conversation. She also coaches adult adoptees as they explore pathways to their own personal liberation. Michelle’s gypsy soul has lived all over the world. She currently resides in California with her multi-cultural & transracial family.


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