People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.
It's the same old story from the previous century
about my father and me.
The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.
It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation."
It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,"
called "The Child Who'd Rather Play than Study."
Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.
But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used?
And me, confused about the flesh and soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
Am I inside you?
You're always inside me, a woman answered,
at peace with the body's finitude,
at peace with the soul's disregard
of space and time.
Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.
If you don't believe you're inside me, you're not,
she answered, at peace with the body's greed,
at peace with the heart's bewilderment.
It's an ancient story from yesterday evening
called "Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,"
called "Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,"
called "I Want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs."
From Behind My Eyes by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2008 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This poem is in the public domain.
A crate of peaches straight from the farm
has to be maintained, or eaten in days.
Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,
I never saw the mess that punishes delay.
I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,
stored it in the coolest part of the house,
then devoured it before any could rot.
I’m from the Peach State, and to those
who ask But where are you from originally,
I’d like to reply The homeland of the peach,
but I’m too nice, and they might not look it up.
In truth, the reason we bought so much
did have to do with being Chinese—at least
Chinese in that part of America, both strangers
and natives on a lonely, beautiful street
where food came in stackable containers
and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive
to the source, where the same money landed
a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.
You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded
by land enough to grow your own, if lawns
hadn’t been required. At home I loved to stare
into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains
of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate,
mysterious packets brought by house guests
from New York Chinatown, to be transformed
by heat, force, and my mother’s patient effort,
enough to keep us fed through flood or storm,
provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice
could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,
but so was everything else my parents did.
Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids,
who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,
to become typical immigrants’ children,
taller than their parents and unaware of hunger
except when asked the odd, perplexing question.
Copyright © 2015 by Adrienne Su. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
now i like to imagine la migra running
into the sock factory where my mom
& her friends worked. it was all women
who worked there. women who braided
each other’s hair during breaks.
women who wore rosaries, & never
had a hair out of place. women who were ready
for cameras or for God, who ended all their sentences
with si dios quiere. as in: the day before
the immigration raid when the rumor
of a raid was passed around like bread
& the women made plans, si dios quiere.
so when the immigration officers arrived
they found boxes of socks & all the women absent.
safe at home. those officers thought
no one was working. they were wrong.
the women would say it was god working.
& it was god, but the god
my mom taught us to fear
was vengeful. he might have wet his thumb
& wiped la migra out of this world like a smudge
on a mirror. this god was the god that woke me up
at 7am every day for school to let me know
there was food in the fridge for me & my brothers.
i never asked my mom where the food came from,
but she told me anyway: gracias a dios.
gracias a dios del chisme, who heard all la migra’s plans
& whispered them into the right ears
to keep our families safe.
Copyright © 2021 by José Olivarez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 12, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
for helios, not yet a collapsed star
and an even better
wolf, jawed to a thicket of lonely
lungs trees I mean breathing, comet
come to me, come
a lone light, like the fire
that rips the mountainside’s
dress, I was a good
ununderstood, a wrist
of bent light, undressing
alone an even quieter violence. I am
remembering how to want
my life, how to want to come
even closer to the wolf I was
you wanted this to be about borders
Copyright © 2021 by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
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
immigrants give birth
In water, gilled tadpoles
sprout limbs. On land
amphibians develop lungs.
Immigrants develop lungs.
Breathe in pine, fuel
and cold atmosphere.
and slumber deathly.
Their colors brighten.
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.