I've begun to grow fatigued. I've learned that writing poems is possible and possibility diminishes exploration. When I arrive elsewhere, say, to the essay, I feel at play. I feel like I have come upon new toys with no instructions. I wander. I hold at an idea longer. I think freer. I don’t look for the exit door as quickly as I would in a poem. It lets me explore the wildness that I initially found so exciting in poetry. So, in that sense, our trajectories are similar, just going in opposite directions. Exhausted, the essay brought me to poetry. And for you, exhausted, poems are bringing you to the essay. Then, there’s the artless essay, the dreaded personal statement. The last one read: I intend to contribute to the seldom-told narrative of living as an undocumented Filipino-American whose path to citizenship is tied up with another politicized modern moment: the legalization of gay marriage. As a corporeal intersection of both undocumented and queer identities, my body is seen by many as unnatural—a site of horror, a target of the phobic. As such, two major threats loom over the project: the risk of sexually transmitted diseases on the gay male body and deportation for the undocumented non-citizen. For many who share my unique position, the desire for state-sanctioned citizenship is analogous to the cure for HIV, two statuses that are, for now, locked in utopian vision—objects on the horizon. 

From Documents. Copyright © 2019 by Jan-Henry Gray. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions.

My mother said this to me
long before Beyoncé lifted the lyrics
from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,

and what my mother meant by
Don’t stray was that she knew
all about it—the way it feels to need

someone to love you, someone
not your kind, someone white,
some one some many who live

because so many of mine
have not, and further, live on top of
those of ours who don’t.

I’ll say, say, say,
I’ll say, say, say,
What is the United States if not a clot

of clouds? If not spilled milk? Or blood?
If not the place we once were
in the millions? America is Maps

Maps are ghosts: white and 
layered with people and places I see through.
My mother has always known best,

knew that I’d been begging for them,
to lay my face against their white
laps, to be held in something more

than the loud light of their projectors
of themselves they flicker—sepia
or blue—all over my body.

All this time,
I thought my mother said, Wait,
as in, Give them a little more time

to know your worth,
when really, she said, Weight,
meaning heft, preparing me

for the yoke of myself,
the beast of my country’s burdens,
which is less worse than

my country’s plow. Yes,
when my mother said,
They don’t love you like I love you,

she meant,
Natalie, that doesn’t mean
you aren’t good.

 

 

*The italicized words, with the exception of the final stanza, come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song "Maps."

Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 20, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.