Where Are the Children- Michael A. Reyes

Emergency Blanket

Memory is the only mother you have now.
Your tiny finger tracing the slow drip of her curls.
You want her to strum your feet again,
pluck from you a squawk and high kick.
With her bird beak, reach for the eyelash
on your lip, tell you to wish something silently.

Would you smile at them, please?

You want her to pat down your stubborn
each morning, those little bedhead joys,
before running to the field to pick tomatoes.
Because compression feels safe, you slide
your feet under her thighs and sleep.
But a finger just feels like a finger now

Would you smile at them?

and a foot, a foot, not a string quartet, not a telephone.
From afar, visitors flash their teeth and a boy
pulls his eyelashes. You play xylophone on the chain links.
Please? You grinning your budding teeth for a metallic blanket.


You may or may not know that toddler derives from toddle, which means to wobble.
You may or may not know that a toddler is one to three years old. In this poem,
I want to speak about the three-year-old toddler. The toddler’s attention is short

and change of toys occurs at frequent intervals. The toddler of whom I speak of likes to kick
pebbles into the gutter, or at least try to. The toddler of whom I speak of also likes to bend
for dandelions, sometimes plucking them. It’s common for the toddler to play in stable

squatting positions, their feet set wide and bottom not quite brushing the ground.
They might need to hold on to a thing to stand up again. At three, the toddler begins to see
themself as a separate individual. However, they still see other toddlers as objects. For instance,

the toddler may kick another toddler as if a pebble into the gutter or the toddler may bend
to tap the toes of another toddler. Self-awareness arrives to the toddler sometimes
after 18 months of age, though later in age isn’t uncommon. At three, the toddler most likely

recognizes themself as a separate physical being with their own thoughts and actions.
Along with self-recognition come feelings of embarrassment and pride
that the toddler hadn’t previously experienced. You may or may not have noticed

that I haven’t mentioned anything about the parent. In this poem, memory is the only parent
the three-year-old toddler will have. In this poem, I did research first before beginning
and still feel as if I’m dancing around the image of which this poem first leaped from.

I didn’t intend for this poem to be an elongated definition on toddler.
I began this way to arrive to my sister.
My sister was three years old when she stood in front of a judge, barely peering over the table.

She was asked to plead her case for not being removed from the US,
to prove she was not “dismissible.” She was labeled “unaccompanied”
although her mother arrived at the border with her for asylum.

Her mother was deported days before this removal proceeding.
My sister could not sit still and slipped off the courtroom chair. She attempted to climb
the table and when she wasn’t allowed to, she wobbled her way under it.

My sister calls this her first moment of resistance and invites me to smile with her
though she never makes much eye contact nor speaks much about the new mother
that adopted her after the judge ordered her into foster care.

This ending makes me think of all the pebbles I’ve kicked today,
how they arrived at my feet and how they will arrive at someone else’s.


The refrain in “Emergency Blanket” is taken from reports of an officer telling visitors to smile at the children detained in cages, and “Toddler” is written in persona after Layli Long Soldier’s poem “38.” Both poems pull language and images from my family histories dealing with disembodiment.

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