We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother

We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts

We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats

We carry scars from proxy wars of greed

We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides

We carry dust of our families and neighbors incinerated in mushroom clouds

We carry our islands sinking under the sea

We carry our hands, feet, bones, hearts and best minds for a new life

We carry diplomas: medicine, engineer, nurse, education, math, poetry, even if they mean nothing to the other shore

We carry railroads, plantations, laundromats, bodegas, taco trucks, farms, factories, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, temples…built on our ancestors’ backs

We carry old homes along the spine, new dreams in our chests

We carry yesterday, today and tomorrow

We’re orphans of the wars forced upon us

We’re refugees of the sea rising from industrial wastes

And we carry our mother tongues
(ai)حب  (hubb), ליבע (libe), amor, love
平安 (ping’an), سلام ( salaam), shalom, paz, peace
希望 (xi’wang), أمل (’amal), hofenung, esperanza, hope, hope, hope

As we drift…in our rubber boats…from shore…to shore…to shore…

Originally published in New American Poetry. Copyright © 2018 by Wang Ping. Used with the permission of the author.

His tongue shorn, father confuses
snacks for snakes, kitchen for chicken.
It is 1992. Weekends, we paw at cheap
silverware at yard sales. I am told by mother
to keep our telephone number close,
my beaded coin purse closer. I do this.
The years are slow to pass, heavy-footed.
Because the visits are frequent, we memorize
shame’s numbing stench. I nurse nosebleeds,
run up and down stairways, chew the wind.
Such were the times. All of us nearsighted.
Grandmother prays for fortune
to keep us around and on a short leash.
The new country is ill-fitting, lined
with cheap polyester, soiled at the sleeves.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

My grandmother kisses
as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes
through the kitchen window,
as if somewhere, a body is falling apart
and flames are making their way back
through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,
as if to walk out the door, your torso
would dance from exit wounds.
When my grandmother kisses, there would be
no flashy smooching, no western music
of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe
you inside her, nose pressed to cheek
so that your scent is relearned
and your sweat pearls into drops of gold
inside her lungs, as if while she holds you
death also, is clutching your wrist.
My grandmother kisses as if history
never ended, as if somewhere
a body is still
falling apart.

Copyright © 2014 by Ocean Vuong. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

In Greek, amphibian means 
“on both sides of life.”

As in: amphibians live 
on land and in water.

As in: immigrants leave 
lands and cross waters.

While amphibians lay 
shell-less eggs,

immigrants give birth 
to Americans.

In water, gilled tadpoles 
sprout limbs. On land

amphibians develop lungs.
Immigrants develop lungs.

Breathe in pine, fuel
and cold atmosphere.

Amphibians’ damp
skin oxygenates. 

Immigrants toil 
and slumber deathly.

Their colors brighten.
They camouflage.

They’ve been known to fall 
out of the sky.

Completely at home
in the rain.

Copyright © 2014 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

I worry that my friends 
will misunderstand my silence

as a lack of love, or interest, instead
of a tent city built for my own mind,  

I worry I can no longer pretend 
enough to get through another

year of pretending I know 
that I understand time, though 

I can see my own hands; sometimes, 
I worry over how to dress in a world 

where a white woman wearing 
a scarf over her head is assumed 

to be cold, whereas with my head 
cloaked, I am an immediate symbol 

of a war folks have been fighting 
eons-deep before I was born, a meteor.  

Copyright © 2018 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I don’t mean when a movie ends,
as in, it’s a! Nor tortillas splitting
with the heavy wet of bean.
And I don’t mean what you do

with your lavender robe—all fluff
and socks—to snatch the paper
from the shrubs. Nor the promise
of a gift, the curl and furl of red ribbon

just begging to be tugged. What I mean
is waiting with my grandmama (a pause
in the Monsoon) at the Trivandrum airport
for a jeep. Her small hand wraps

again the emerald green pallu of her sari
tucked in at her hips, across her breast,
and coughs it up over her shoulder—a hush
of paprika and burnt honey across my face.

From Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Copyright © 2003 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.

In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.

In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,

you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him

about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.

They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend

the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?

I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair

of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.

My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,

isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend

Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.

Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns

to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like

this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother

more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is

already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.

While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation

clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid

in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,

& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me

what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily

talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets

slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.

Remind me, he says
to our family.

Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

If you are a child of a refugee, you do not
sleep easily when they are crossing the sea
on small rafts and you know they can’t swim.
My father couldn’t swim either. He swam through
sorrow, though, and made it to the other side
on a ship, pitching his old clothes overboard
at landing, then tried to be happy, make a new life.
But something inside him was always paddling home,
clinging to anything that floated —a story, a food, or face.
They are the bravest people on earth right now,
don’t dare look down on them. Each mind a universe
swirling as many details as yours, as much love
for a humble place. Now the shirt is torn,
the sea too wide for comfort, and nowhere
to receive a letter for a very long time.

And if we can reach out a hand, we better.

From The Tiny Journalist. Copyright © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd. 

The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.
The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.
The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.
The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.
The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.
The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.
The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.
The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.
The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.
The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.
The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

The border smells like cars at noon and wood smoke in the evening.
The border is the place between the two pages in a book where the spine is bent too far.
The border is two men in love with the same woman.
The border is an equation in search of an equals sign.
The border is the location of the factory where lightning and thunder are made.
The border is “NoNo” The Clown, who can’t make anyone laugh.
The border is a locked door that has been promoted.
The border is a moat but without a castle on either side.
The border has become Checkpoint Chale.
The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.
The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.
The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.
The border is the line in new bifocals: below, small things get bigger; above, nothing changes.
The border is a skunk with a white line down its back.

Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. 

While they wait in long lines, legs shifting,
fingers growing tired of holding handrails,
pages of paperwork, give them patience.
Help them to recall the cobalt Mediterranean
or the green valleys full of vineyards and sheep.
When peoples’ words resemble the buzz
of beehives, help them to hear the music
of home, sung from balconies overflowing
with woven rugs and bundled vegetables.
At night, when the worry beads are held
in one palm and a cigarette lit in the other,
give them the memory of their first step
onto solid land, after much ocean, air and clouds,
remind them of the phone call back home saying,
We arrived. Yes, thank God we made it, we are here.

Copyright © 2011 Lory Bedikian. This poem originally appeared in The Book of Lamenting (Anhinga Press, 2011). Used with permission of the author.

 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

I always like summer
best
you can eat fresh corn
from daddy's garden
and okra
and greens
and cabbage
and lots of
barbecue
and buttermilk
and homemade ice-cream
at the church picnic
and listen to
gospel music
outside
at the church
homecoming
and go to the mountains with
your grandmother
and go barefooted
and be warm
all the time
not only when you go to bed
and sleep

"Knoxville, Tennessee" from Black Feeling, Black Talk, Black Judgment by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 1968, 1970 by Nikki Giovanni. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

To a Brown Boy

Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,
     Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
     Even like the very land,
     Even like the trunks of trees—
     Even oaks, to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.

To be brown like thrush and lark!
     Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
     Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
     Brown has mighty things to do.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.

From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.

It is tamale Saturday.
The day the colors of the rainbow break
b r e a d.            Today these Brown hands will be coated
In masa and Mama and memory.

A family patterned like
plaid on stripes will go to war with corn
husks and Grandma Lupe's recipe    h a n d w r i t i n g.   
Today I am not artist. Nor social

media handle. I am not
Black Boy Joy. Nor Brown Boy dead. I am
a   b a b y                before its first gulp of tap water. The oldest cousin
still hesitant to clink forks at the adult table.

Today we pick up the place
mats Tia and Big Mama and Papa Sisto left
behind. We’ve never been the same since they    d i e d.       
We grew into something stronger

and weaker at the same time,
most ourselves when colors don’t
m a t c h       but meat is tender, and masa has no clumps,
and air is clean like a mind

that has reconciled with its last meal.

Copyright © Christian Robinson. This poem originally appeared in Respect the Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry from a Chicagoland High School (Penguin, 2022). Used with permission of the author.

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
    Black like me.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.