Brown love is getting the pat down but not the secondary screening
and waiting after you clear to make sure the Sikh man or
the Black woman or the hijabis behind you get through
Brown love is asking the Punjabi guy working at the starbucks knockoff
if all the tea sizes are still the same price
and he says no,
it hasn’t been like that for at least four years,
but he slips you an extra tea bag without talking about it.
Brown love is the unsmiling aunty
at the disabled immigration line
anything to declare? No? No? Have a good day.
and your rice, semolina, kari karo seeds and jaggary all get through
even though they are definitely from countries
where there are insects that could eat america to the ground
Brown love is texting your cousin on whatsapp asking
if she’s ever had a hard time bringing weed tincture in her carry on
brown love is a balm
in this airport of life
where, if we can scrape up enough money
we all end up
because we all came from somewhere
and we want to go there
or we can’t go to there but we want to go to the place we went after that
where our mom still lives even though we fight
or our chosen sis is still in her rent controlled perfect apartment
where we get the luxury of things being like how we remember
we want to go to the place we used to live
and even if gentrification snatched the bakery
with the 75 cent coffee where everyone hung out all night
we can still walk the block where it was
and the thing about brown love is, nobody smiles.
nobody is friendly. nobody winks. nobody can get away with that
they’re all silently working their terrible 9 dollar an hour
food service jobs where tip jars aren’t allowed
or TSA sucks but it’s the job you can get out of the military
and nobody can get away with being outwardly loving
but we do what we can
brown love is the woman who lets your 1 pound over the 50 pound limit bag go
the angry woman who looks like your cousin
who is so tired on the american airlines customer service line
she tags your bag for checked luggage
and doesn’t say anything about a credit card, she just yells Next!
Brown love is your tired cousin who prays you all the way home
from when you get on the subway to when you land and get on another.
This is what we have
we do what we can.
Copyright © 2020 by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 16, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“My evolving experience of existing in the policed and surreal environments of airports is a subject I return to often in my writing life, and I wrote this poem in January 2018 after many airport visits in quick succession. All the moments in it are based on real events in my life as a racially ambiguous (but unambiguously brown) queer traveler who frequently crosses borders. This time, I was struck by all these silent, working-class, brown moments of solidarity and witness in the middle of a hostile space where so many of us work low wage jobs. Recording recognition and the relief we carve out of spaces not meant for us is especially important for me.”
—Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. They received an MFA from Mills College.
Piepzna-Samarasinha is the author of the poetry collections Tonguebreaker (Arsenal Pulp, 2019), Bodymap (Maenzi House, 2015), which was a finalist for Publishing Triangle's Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry; and Love Cake (TSAR Publications, 2011), which received a 2012 Lambda Award. The poet Cyree Jarelle Johnson writes that Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poetry “paints a portrait of crippled body sovereignty in a world that would rather isolate us until we disappear.”
They are also the author of the memoir Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home (Arsenal Pulp, 2015), which was a finalist for both a Lambda Award and for Publishing Triangle's Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction. With Ching-In Chen and Jai Dulani, they are a co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities (AK Press, 2016).
Piepzna-Samarasinha has received a fellowship from the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, and in 2010 the Feminist Press named them one of 40 Feminists Under 40 Shaping the Future. They are a disability and transformative justice movement worker, educator, and lead artist with the disability justice performance collective Sins Invalid. They live in South Seattle, Duwamish territories, Washington.
Tonguebreaker (Arsenal Pulp, 2019)
Bodymap (Maenzi House, 2015)
Love Cake (TSAR Publications, 2011)
Consensual Genocide (TSAR Publications, 2006)
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015)
Date Published: 2020-01-16
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/brown-love