Legendary, Beautiful and Reflection Pond
Three Books by Jaiya John
Soul Water Rising, 2007, 2008

Reviewed by
Barbara Free, M.A.

     Legendary and Beautiful are collections of poetry inspired by the work John does with adopted and foster children, as well as his own life experiences. They can best be appreciated by those who have experienced the foster system firsthand, either as a child or as a professional or foster parent.
     In the preface to Beautiful, John states, “young voices encountered in my life’s work are rendered in fictional poetry inspired by their sheer human luminosity. I wrote these poems for adults, intending to transmit the honest, unobstructed spirit of children.”
     Many of the poems and short prose vignettes are touching and give us a new insight into the thoughts and feelings of children in the foster system. An example from Legendary:

     I just hope nobody ever takes me away cause how would I ever find my way back and why are people always talking about sending me to a better life folk seem awful comfortable with the idea of me never seeing my family again.

And these lines from Beautiful:

foster is a funny word child comes to us a hummingbird fluttering nervous tiny thing frantic beating of her wings hungry starving daring thing darting dancing wishing she could sing like other birds and have her song listened to enjoyed...understood.

Later, in Beautiful, a child says, “How can you assume people who scorn what I come from can make me feel loved.” These poems, though written by the author as fictional composites of what children have expressed to him, are true on a larger level. Many adoptees and birth parents will also find the words true for them, even if they have not been involved in the foster system. Adoptive parents may find some of the words troubling, touching, or painful.
     If you’re not into reading poetry, try these books anyway. If you have a foster child, an adoptee (child or adult) or any triad member in your life, recommend the books to them, without telling them how to think or feel about the content.


     Reflection Pond, which was written a year earlier than the books of poetry, consists of short essays on the same theme as the books of poetry: separation, loss, lack of understanding, grief for which are no words. It should be required reading for all social workers and therapists who are involved in foster and adoptive placement and treatment. Part of the author’s emphasis is on black children caught in a foster system run by white adults, but what he has to say on behalf of children is more universal than just color differences. That is not to discount the importance of color in a child’s heritage and outlook, although as the author says “reducing a child’s heritage down to a color is an incredible insult. Doing so allows us to believe that her heritage is meaningless.” For those involved in cross-cultural or cross-racial adoptions and foster situations, it may be difficult not to feel defensive when reading all of these books, but making an effort to let go of that defense and just allowing the words to speak to the reader will prove valuable.
     These books, published under the author’s own imprint, Soul Water Rising, will probably not be available in your local bookstore; they can be ordered from via the website http://www.soulwater.org, and copies are available for check-out in the O.I. lending library.

Excerpted from the October 2009 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2009 Operation Identity