translated by Sasha Pimentel

The girls in Perth Amboy
add to the wind
their small tears
to loosen the torment.

I remember 
the first time
on these grounds,
the mailbox, the snow,
your coupon book,
English class,
the smell of neglect
in the hallways.

the liminal sickness
of sidewalks.
The cold
at the corners of lips,
above the machines,
the counter
and vital signs,

the deep root of rage,
sowing what is solid
into the lawn,
heightening the rose’s stem,
and from your own kindness.

But I think,
dear Beth,
it must be true
that before us
was another tribe of wanderers,
shepherds of loss

these girls
in Perth Amboy
shaking the bedsheet,
cursing the weather,
their many errands,
and climbing regularly
the erect hill
of ire,
daily goddess,
the first language
we learned here,
our great, unexpected possession.

I ask myself
dear Beth,
is this bright, 
hard, polished stone of rage
the land that we were promised?


Querida Beth


Las muchachas en Perth Amboy
agregan al viento
sus minúsculas lágrimas
para desatar la tormenta.

la primera vez de todo
en este predio:
el buzón, la nieve
tu libro de cupones
la clase de inglés,
el olor a desamparo
en los pasillos.

el Invierno,
la enfermedad liminal 
de las aceras.
El frío,
en la comisura de los labios,
arriba de las máquinas,
del mostrador
y de los signos vitales,

El frío 
La raíz profunda de la rabia,
sembrando lo sólido en la grama
arreciando el tallo de la rosa
y de tu propia bondad.

Pero pienso, 
querida Beth,
que debe ser cierto 
que antes de nosotras
hubo otra peregrina tribu 
pastora de la pérdida

esas muchachas 
en Perth Amboy
sacudiendo la sábana
desdiciendo del clima,
de sus muchos oficios 
y subiendo regularmente 
la colina erguida
de la ira,
diosa matutina, 
la primera lengua que 
aprendimos aquí, 
nuestra gran posesión inesperada.

Yo me pregunto
querida Beth 
¿es esta recia
lustrosa piedra pulida de la rabia 
la tierra que nos prometieron?

Related Poems

A Situation for Mrs. Biswas

When I received the call I was in a store in Missoula, Montana.  

A store stocked with sparkling ephemera: glass fauna, tiny belfry bulbs, 

winter white birch and stump-lamps brandishing light cones, 

little shelves and branches hung with drops of ice and round silver baubles.  

I loved the store: it was cavernous, dark with wood and burlap,

a ruddy brick loft with lithographs and monographs on birds or bracelets. 

The store-owner, Fran, was away that day otherwise 
I would have stayed in there a little longer. 

She was a comforting friend—
she had impeccable taste, manifested in her put-together garments, 
she also had a warming patient smile. 

I didn't stay long, I didn't linger; 
though linger is absolutely the wrong word,
more like I didn't stumble around there for hours.

(I would stumble around in that store for a full year.) 

If she had been behind the counter I would have turned to her in bewilderment. 


You see I had picked up my ringing cell phone while browsing 
(I usually keep it off in stores), 

and my father said, there's something I have to tell you.
I don't want you to find out any other way. I am leaving my job. 
They want me to resign. 

Fran had met my father the week before—
he wanted to see downtown, the campus, get to know Montana—
he had done research on the education opportunities. 

He was interested in outreach. 

People all over met him and found him to be a kindhearted man. 

I had set up meetings, he was here to meet educators, mathematicians—
more spirited people—I told him—than Bostonians.

I told him the West was a magical place. He agreed. 

Later he would tell me that this was his last best day, a strange pun on the Last Best Place. 

Little did we know we would have to fight a very public battle. 

And apparently from the rumors and from the strange
treatment he received prior to his termination, 
there was a plot in place. 
We, as a family, felt the public ridicule. 

And as an Asian family, we felt the acute Asian shame. It was a dark, 
disastrous cloud hanging, hanging, hanging.

My father would be would be publicly shamed
and we were shocked at the racist narratives—
allegations—a greedy brown man—

mismanaging, mismanaging, mismanaging

One public interest story to release venom—
to tease out real feelings from strangers.  

Blog comments were aggressive: the Indian was a con, 
a snake-oil man. 

You just have to give them a scenario
in which they can invest—in which to place those hard-to-place feelings.
White people bury their resentments beneath their liberalism. 
We knew he hadn't done anything wrong—we knew this was bogus.

Like I said, I was getting ready for the holidays, 
I played hooky that Tuesday excited to wrap gifts;  
I wanted to decorate the house. 

This was my first house. 
My husband was out looking at Christmas trees. 
Albeit I am a Hindu, trees are an awful lot of fun. 

And this planning was quickly thwarted with the difficult—
my family was falling apart—
the droop in my life felt permanent. 

I was more than 2,000 miles from my father, but the way he spoke 
at the moment of the call becalmed me—
I felt anchored to his side—
I will stay there for as long as it takes. 

Before this moment I was in a terrific mood. 

I wanted to don the table 
with the kind of candles that beckoned, pulling you into an aesthetic presence 
fully-fabricated and lit, and yet looked like it came from snow. 

I had been in Missoula for many months, 
I had come from Brooklyn, where I had lived for twelve years. 
Now I was ready to escape.

Having been born and raised outside of Boston, 
without the opportunities say someone like Robert Lowell had. 

I knew I was not of that ilk nor was my father—we now realize. 

Boston was indeed for the rich—with its stodgy colonial identity, 
with its ridiculous Brahmans—
its oddly cultureless stance 
even with Harvard as its mirror. 
(Even with Cal as front & center literati.)

Even so, I was pleased, I was unhurried in my new life, I was, I was. 
I could feel how I stood, I could feel the rising happiness—of the belly, not the gut. 

I was consumed with the bliss of poetry, 
so much poetry around me, everything with poetry.

I said and understood, the workshop will be my ideology, 
my intentional community, front and center—with bells. 

My family was overjoyed with the way our lives 
were working together—

my father was comfortable, my mother pleased, 
a professorship and presidential position 
at a college, he was the first South-Asian president. 

He had come to America with very little and now had something. 

As you can see, there is an immigrant narrative here. 

When he first arrived, he made very little money as a visiting professor so he worked
   security at night at the Museum of Fine Arts. He kept thinking his colleague, Bruce,
   was calling him bastard, when he was calling him buster. 

It took him months to realize this. He first had to confront Bruce. 

The sequence of his first major purchases and acquisitions, which took several months: 

a suitcase and a rug, then he found a dentist's chair for the living room.  

He bought the Bob Dylan album that had "Blowing in the Wind," because it really
   sounded Hindu—it sounded like it came from the Rig Veda.

For many years I would say he was a model minority—he aspired to being
   rewarded for his good work by white people. 

We agreed, all was well— I had made my way to where I had wanted to be,
living a poet's life and it felt extraordinary—
all of the birch-stump lamps lighting up inside, this was a kind of bliss.  

I had arrived where I loved in absolute terms. 

Where I could love the poetics of if, then & thou. The luminous…

And yet poetry haunts with its suggestion that terrible things are true and stick, as Rilke says:

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough/to be to you just object
and thing/dark and smart.


The sun was hidden behind the darkest cloud.

I said what is happening to my father? 

In response, my husband's back gave out, 
he could not walk without whimpering, there was whimpering in the night

and I wasn't sure which one of us it was. 

What was happening to my ableness? 

We had failure, heaps of failure in our hands.

The world had recast itself in such a way that I had to address the power behind it. 

I kept saying strange things to people like no one is exempt from suffering. 
I felt like a tiny bird with sinking feet. 

There are assertions about difference 
That I had not wanted to make in the past, but now did. 

Where was I? Who was I? 

My father was told he had to watch his back 
and then they took everything away from him. 

To take away his dignity with so many untruths. Do I have to watch my back too? 

What did I think I could have? I wasn't even sure if I had it here. 
People hadn't seen me as me, I started to feel it. Those glass birds 

and the birch lamps were a kind of privilege 
only others could have—not "others" in the sense in which I was other. 

I started to see how money worked the room: when we had it, when we didn't. 

Imagine, we were so close 
to the soaring sky, and imagine how we fell. 
How we knew falling wouldn't end us,

fall right here, fall right there, cry out, oh blustering self, 
it can't be as bad as you think. 

I said let's remember how to do it so it won't hurt 
this time or the next.  

But I had to say the branches extended their arms,
there was a house attached to them—

we found ourselves languishing, then needing 
to rebuild.  

It was the turning of the year and then another one.

And the showy, extravagant people capped themselves
on the tops of mountain ash—

we came out to clear them away.

Como Tú / Like You / Like Me

{for the D.A.C.A DREAMers and all our nation's immigrants}

. . . my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life . . .

. . . mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sange unánime
de los que luchan por la vida . . .

—Roque Dalton, Como tú

Como tú, I question history’s blur in my eyes
each time I face a mirror. Like a mirror, I gaze
into my palm a wrinkled map I still can’t read,
my lifeline an unnamed road I can’t find, can’t
trace back to the fork in my parents’ trek
that cradled me here. Como tú, I woke up to
this dream of a country I didn’t choose, that
didn’t choose me—trapped in the nightmare
of its hateful glares. Como tú, I’m also from
the lakes and farms, waterfalls and prairies
of another country I can’t fully claim either.
Como tú, I am either a mirage living among
these faces and streets that raised me here,
or I’m nothing, a memory forgotten by all
I was taken from and can’t return to again.

Like memory, at times I wish I could erase
the music of my name in Spanish, at times
I cherish it, and despise my other syllables
clashing in English. Como tú, I want to speak
of myself in two languages at once. Despite
my tongues, no word defines me. Like words,
I read my footprints like my past, erased by
waves of circumstance, my future uncertain
as wind. Like the wind, como tú, I carry songs,
howls, whispers, thunder’s growl. Like thunder,
I’m a foreign-borne cloud that’s drifted here,
I’m lightning, and the balm of rain. Como tú,
our blood rains for the dirty thirst of this land.
Like thirst, like hunger, we ache with the need
to save ourselves, and our country from itself.

Dear Millennium, On the Angel of Immigration

In the bronze skin of your rain-mottled angel of immigration
who looks forward 
                          with a faux diamond clasp 
               of upward mobility on her watery clavicle, 
                                       inner rain called mizzle is shining— 
a frayed chrome-polishing 
                                        rag on a bicycle while the fig tree 
loses its foliage due to a blight called rust. Dear millennium, 
                           destined to be a girl, 
an artist not engineer, 
you’ve never fallen in love. (Do you even believe?) Centuries, 
                                                 this peace offering— 
a non-fruiting olive 
                                       after your lavender died of root-rot 
                            on a winter afternoon in the north. 
(Day after a sea storm, holy 
and granular— 
             bayside hailing clean off the rim, napthlalene 
                                         stored in mothless boxes of air, 
of agelessness, hybrid tea-roses, and rocket fuel.) 
                           Ear-shaped, honey-combed morels 
flourish by the rosemary, edible yet uneaten— 
                                       dearly so, as evidence 
of a battered dictionary you once loved, too. (Light-drenched sea, 
             all its charismatic splendor, is a room 
                                                          of meticulous self-reform, 
                                       noxious blue-eyed madness 
of the dead.) For this reason, your ancestors 
                         wished to sail on a ship around a landform 
              to its southernmost point (Dear millennium, what we loved 
                          is written tenderly in the dregs of the earth.) 
Dear millennium, see how immigrants 
                         yearn for departure not extravagance, 
freedom with a notion of rootedness 
                                       or nesting. 
In doing so, this generational reimagining, dear millennium— 
you are cured of nothing 
                                       yet everything at once.