When I was 5

when I was 5
and alone
a handstitched, felt puppet
wrapped in red tissue paper
tied up with string
was all I had 
to cling to
at Christmas
in the foster home
where they sent me
when you went away

a small, scared child's hand
reaching for forbidden comfort,
"It's not Christmas yet." they said
but it was all I had of you, of home
a tissue-wrapped present
hid beneath a strange bed;
I touched the crinkly paper
and thoughts of you flowed
along with the tears

a man with missing eyebrows
and burned fingertips 
looked at me
across a cold-Formica kitchen table,
"Don't be afraid." they said
"A gas explosion took them"
I grew up fast
and hard
when I was 5
and alone

B.Y. Penman 2021