A Short History of Journey

The fault, dear Arcturus, is not in your star.
I’m afraid we misread the swells
like explorers mistaking one continent for another.

“Columbus stretched out Asia eastward until Japan almost kissed the Azores.”1
“The Chinese treasure fleet had been mothballed long before Magellan set to sea.”2

In other words, they were imprecise, and they perished.

(Behold the flight of birds on rarefied air,
from breeding ground to wintering ground.
Behold intention, and its kin, precision.)

Be that as it may, we were always meant for motion.

See how the Silk Road was paved with horses’ bones.
And more than smuggled silkworm, it brought sugar, silver,
paper—utter world changer.

See how the Spice Trade flourished,
shoring up an empire, its galleons—implacable bearers of a slave
trade from Manila to Acapulco.

The world got its cinnamon, its cocoa, its cassia and cardamom,
its lapis lazuli, and its Balas Ruby—ancient and sapphire-veined.
We got wanderlust.

And the bravest of us looked up and remembered everything—
the fixed star, the dippers, the king, the queen, the bear-keeper—
rubescent and fourth brightest in all the night sky, dearest,

remembered also the cardinal of old fields and every roadside—
brilliantly blue and sometimes true—in the same night sky,
roaming its way home.

1Morison, Samuel Eliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea. The American Past, 1942. Cited in IEEE Spectrum, 2012.

2 Bergreen, Laurence. Over the Edge of the World. MJF Books, 2015. Cited in CNN, 2003.


To tell her story, you must know when
to put courage in a matchbox and conceal

it in a loaf of bread. You must learn how
a message betokened deliverance

when courage is simply a word someone
wrote on a slip of paper and the sweet

scent of bread could no longer sustain you.
You must grasp your other hand with what

grit remains, growing and unyielding.
To tell her story, you must walk in her shoes.

If forced out of your leased farmland,
don’t forget to bring rice if you can pack

only what you can carry. And if
your mother did not speak inside the bus

with the windows covered with brown paper
on the way to the barracks, it was only

because she was praying that you would not be
housed in the horse stall with the manure

whitewashed over. And if you were, she was
deciding what to do about the smell.

To tell her story, you must remember
the landscape from behind barbed

wire fences. You must gaze at your body
and know its history, look beneath

the tender, ridged scars and see the bone
protruding out of your right arm

and hole the size of a football
on your right thigh, wondering how

the lights never went out. You must
look at the image of your grandmother

with the weight of rammed earth against
what you survived. To tell her story,

you must say a prayer, not of sorrow,
but of grace. You must loosen the earth,

pick daffodils to the base of the stem,
remember your roots and ordinary days,

and the grit under your fingernails,
the way your grandmother taught you.

Haint Blue

To free yourself of the haint,
you need to vanquish it.
Paint your porch
the color of water
which is power,
with the might to scatter
blue light to the green
of seawater. But remember
how heavy color can be.
How shades of blue
came from true indigo,
which needed an abundance
of water and limestone
above the bedrock before
it became a cash crop,
which needed to be pounded
and crushed, and dusted
with wood ash to make
blue cakes, which was the currency
of slavery: a bolt of cloth
dyed indigo for one human body.
But mixed with lime and some
white mineral, it resembled water
which haints could not cross over.

There are no kings in America

we are not that kind of country.

We are sanctuary for the hungry,

the homeless, the huddled,

held together by an idea

our immigrant fathers believed in.

Rendered, it meant independence.

Pursued, it kindled war, ordinance,

a fighting chance. Forty thousand

musket balls, by themselves, did not

shape the boundaries on which we

map our days. To draw our borders,

we needed more than firecakes.

More than a pound of meat

with bone and gristle,

or salt fish and a gill of peas.

We needed the faith and grit of people

who were not yet Americans.

To be an American is to

recognize the sacrifice

of the widow and the orphan;

it is to understand the weft of tent

cities expecting caravans,

and the heft of a child in a camp

not meant for children, or sitting

before a judge awaiting judgement.

What do we say to the native

whose lands we now inhabit?

What do we say to our immigrant

fathers who held certain truths

to be self-evident?

Do we now still pledge to each

other our lives, our fortunes,

our sacred honor.

There are no kings in America.

Only gilded men we can topple

again and again.