The word orphanage is an ugly one. It has Dickensian overtones of cruelty to children who are already dealt the dreadful catastrophe of losing their parents. These days, there are few or no orphanages in the Western world: the economies of prosperous countries are such that their birth rates are dropping, with the result that any unparented children quickly find a home. The aftermath of war, anywhere, however, brings about a raft of children whose fate is to survive (Williams 2003) and to find themselves at the mercy of host countries after being herded into orphanages in the theatre of conflict itself. Because conflicts kill, and kill mostly adults. Global diasporas caused by wars carry many streams of people (Williams 2003) many of whom are children.
The two poems in the spotlight show a surface similarity - they are both about children left parentless by war, but, since they are written by a woman and a man with a polarity of cultures, many differences - subtle and overt - are to be found.
Larsen’s poem illustrates the well-meaning but wildly inconsiderate actions that take place after any catastrophe: how (generally) white Western people offer charity without thinking of the consequences, either immediate or long-term. ‘I went with balloons, hard candies, / old National Geographics’(Mahony 1998): it is bewildering to anyone who has worked with the homeless and parentless to see the perceptions of those who have never experienced a moment of having absolutely nothing, not even a Mom.
Good intentions often blow up in the face of the giver, and that is what happens in Larsen’s poem: the narrator brings gifts to an orphanage, only to find herself face to face with her own misapprehensions and lack of sensitivity. This can be taken as an analogy for countries who intervene into conflicts among communities of whose culture they have little or no idea, and of