In five languages, I am trying to learn the word for orphan. It is easier than telling the truth. I miss you, Mother, although you were alcoholic and asthmatic and you cheated on everyone you touched. Although you never wanted me, and you would rather sing songs to your seals and fish, carding wool under an overturned boat, humming about the saints and trains. In Polish, the word for orphan is the same as the word for tin cup. Would you never speak to me again if I told you I made that up? I collected small wild things in a blue plastic bucket, showed them to my not-mother. My not-mother shrieked like a cat with a stepped-on tail, demanded I dump them back in the forest. She quivered and laughed behind curtains. Could I help it if nothing had learned to run from me? Could I help it if a garter snake, pure muscle wiggling, felt good in my palm, and even better on my tongue? I never learned the difference between my inside and outside voice. At the Allen E. Crescent Middle School, I spent my recesses collecting frogs in the puddles in the soccer field. The frogs were the size of the first joint of my thumb, all click and glimmer, then all throat, panicking breath. The fourth graders threw spoiled milk on me -- I stunk like a sick cow all day. When I crawled home, my not-mother washed me off with a hose, and made me sleep in the garage for a week. I pinched spiders from the rafters into a jar, and nestled a nest of mice in the hood of my fur jacket. A flower unfurled itself over the driveway every morning, then wrapped itself away at night. I never found the name for this flower, its fine, electric-green vines, its pinkish face like an old ear trumpet, pointing at the sky to hear. I wanted to call it orphan, but my not-mother told me that's not right, that it has another name.