All the Shores and Borders We Have Left Behind
Stamped at the door, where is the coat check
for the hyphens we carry like oversized
accessories? We, too, are America,
wearing our inheritance, tucking in
our accents. As if it is shameful
to be brave enough to weigh
new words on our tongues and chew them
slowly, till they feel like they belong
in our mouths—even if they never taste
like home—while strangers
change our names to better fit their own.
Every nation’s name translates
“Remember.” For all who left
another life, all but those who first loved
this land, America has always been
a series of arrivals. Which matters
more: where an idea was born
or where it lives now? We are all cut
out of a dialect of paper—brown or white,
tissue, sand, recycled. Our fiber is the same.
Believing rumors of refuge, we fled familiar
violence. Crawled through ragged
walls of homes and hospitals,
temples, mosques, and churches.
Ran barefoot into the arms of
our names to be called, our hearts to meet us
on the other side. Seeds of the past
still cling to our clothes, spin off of us
whenever there’s a wind.
We are the song stolen
from our mother, pushed out
the Door of No Return. Grafted into
a history of importing. Stripped
of family, kingdoms, titles, names, we hid
okra seeds in our hair—something of our own
to sow when we were scattered. Transplants
in stubborn soil unaccustomed to
our mighty, branching beauty,
we held within our bodies the secret
language of the drum to cross
the distances between us.
That we may never forget
we are not a native species,
doorkeepers always appoint themselves.
Settled here so long they cannot recall
landing, winter rising over the ocean’s rim—
how few survived the journey
and fewer lived to see the first
green whisper through the trees.
What long, stone stories they brought forth
to frame new fields, every place
named after the old. How they, too, starved
for freedom, pulled up countless roots
before they could finally grow
anything to feed their own.
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Photo by masha krasnova-shabaeva/Flickr