Joanna Catherine Scott
2000 Poetry Chapbook Contest

How My Driver Disapproves of Charity

It happens at a crowded corner, waiting for a light
or in traffic so dense it stops us:
a face presses to my window, a scruffy child,
boy or girl, difficult to tell.
Roel clears his throat, looking at me
in the rear view mirror, and I see
disapproval moving In his shoulders.
I ignore him, wind the window down an inch or so,
squeeze a tiny packet of raisins into dirty fingers.
At once the space above the glass is decorated
with a dozen sets, wiggling their demands.

Maam, the light!

I wind the window up in jerks,
watching the fingers retreat a handful at a time
until only the most unbelieving are left
like grubby ornaments along the top.
Roel revs the engine, glancing sharply sideways.
The remaining fingers vanish
and the car shoots forward to the next red light.
Now I feel him watching me again, ready to rebuke,
but the raisins are all gone,
nothing to do but watch the hollow little faces
with their hard demanding eyes
flattening and rounding on the glass.

Perhaps Roel is right. What profit is there
in a few packets of raisins squeezed through a window?
Suppose I give these children all I have,
lay down my life, let them feed on my body,
     what does it gain?
These are his people after all. He is embarrassed
that they beg from foreigners.
And perhaps ashamed to have his compadres know
he drives for an American who hands out charity
in little packs, recoiling from the outstretched hands,

© 2001 Joanna Catherine Scott

Author Biography

Joanna Catherine Scott was born during an air raid over London, raised in Australia, and migrated to the United States in 1976 where she took her graduate degree at Duke University and now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is the author of Indochina’s Refugees: Oral Histories from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and three novels: Charlie and the Children, a novel of Vietnam (WA Veteran Book-of-the Month); Pursuing Pauline, a novel of the women's revolution; and The Lucky Gourd Shop, which serves as the prose counterpart to this chapbook, telling the story of what befell her children's birth family in Korea. The Lucky Gourd Shop is available from MacMurray & Beck Publishers (

Critical Response

"In this fine sequence of poems about the adoption of three Korean children, Joanna C. Scott explores the double-edged sword of motherhood from the vantage point of a woman who has both lost children and adopted them. Scott sets the landscape of the anguished human heart against a backdrop of poverty, revolution, and necessity. Birth Mother presents poems of acute insight, deep feeling and impressive poetic skill. A collection alive with power and tragedy."

—Geraldine Connolly

"Read these lucid and elegant poems for their compelling story—that of an American woman in the Philippines who adopts three Korean orphans—but also as a lyrical counterpart to Scott's novel The Lucky Gourd Shop, with its magically imagined life of her adopted children's birth mother."

—Natasha Sajé

©2009 Longleaf Press at Methodist University | Fayetteville, NC