Alice G. Waldert

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One Night

while playing with a one-eyed doll,
in my pajamas, in the bedroom 
in the only home I’ve ever known,
I hear my foster father roar
and speak my father’s name.
I walk down the hall—
where I took my first steps—
to the kitchen—
where I eat each meal.
My foster father stands bent,
over the phone,
voice raised
drilling words
into the receiver.

You f… asshole!
You owe us three months of money.
Your daughter needs new clothes!
Do you want us to leave her on the street?

My foster mother washes dishes in the sink. 
Her back is turned to me.
She runs the water to rinse plates clean. 
She turns her marble eyes on me.
The telephone call ends. 

She asks—if he does not pay us, 
what do we do with her?

I am five years old 
and see me packed
and pushed out
onto the street
in my pajamas
on a cold, wet night.


When my foster sister got new dresses
I got a mottled sweater,
                     with a hole
second-hand shoes
                     that gnawed at my toes
pants that ended
                      at my ankles.

My foster parents’ justification:
Your parents forgot to pay us again!
Your mother is in a hospital bed!
Your father is off gambling on horses!

You have clothes on your back
food in your belly
a bed to sleep in

When their daughter shrieked
                    about her clothes,
she stomped her heels into the floor.
                  Her mother cried, —we can find something for you.
When I shook my head at a wool biting sweater
                    Her mother wielded the wooden spoon— 
it landed with a blistering blow.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner they talked to each other—
                     I ate what was given,
their daughter pouted and pushed
                     food off her plate.
Her father yelled at her,
                     pointed his finger at me
why can’t you be more like her?
                     She sits quietly and eats her liver.
What visiting guests admired most
                     was seeing her mother caressing my cheek.


Alice G. Waldert is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, and visual artist whose work has appeared in Prometheus Dreaming, Survivor Lit, Sisyphus Magazine, The Voice of Eve, Bangalore Review, and others. She is retired from working as an English Professor and fills her time with family, working on poetry, short stories, and painting.