I’ve been stunned in sorrow watching & reading the news recently; I think staying in America for the foreseeable future (after 13 years of being away) is retraining my eye for tragedy, pulling all the hurt into a sharp clear focus that’s hard to ignore. Perhaps that is why I’ve been writing so many poems about the gorgeous roiling contradiction that is this country: to write feels like singing a familiar hymn, or watching an old elm fall in slow motion, or blowing bubbles I know will disappear in a moment but are all the more beautiful for the fraction of time they are alive.
This one is called “Every Day the Same Story About Immigrants” & serves both as a love letter to my family & a reminder to myself. First published in the breathtaking summer issue of Ghost City Review—I’m grateful to the editors for believing in my work, a kind of warmth that feels hopeful & gleaming & endless.
It doesn’t seem right to share this poem with you without also linking to several ways you can help the immigrants who are trying so desperately to find & make & build homes in this country that has done so much to push them out. No human is illegal. No child should grow up in a detention camp, without soap or blankets, away from their parents. Consider helping to pay immigrants’ bail, hosting an asylum-seeker in your home, donating to RAICES or Immigrant Families Together, joining a pen pal or visitation programme for detained immigrants, volunteering your time & skills, or donating household goods to the Immigrant Rescue Committee or the U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants.
Thank you for holding this, doves. Please take care of yourselves & the people around you.
Every Day the Same Story About Immigrants
How their tongues curl around the bitterest
language. How they wake in a futureless country
& shrink-wrap it. Swallow it to possess it. I know
this story by heart, by which I mean what kind of
daughter am I if I don’t: my grandparents & their
plane tickets to a place too big for its maps. The
accents they worked so hard to scrub from their
tongues—&, the way they tell it now, this being
less an act of violence & more one of desire.
My father in his teenage years thinking America
America America like a redemption, a communion.
& here, now, me sitting at the dinner table, eating
roti prata, aloo curry, listening to this story instead
of living it. A white girl comments, offhand, how
surprised she was to find I have no accent & I have
to stop myself from snapping it’s an American
accent. That’s not the same thing. It must be nice,
so easily renaming a saviour into nothingness.
Even now my fury is the spitting image of my
father’s, but unlike him, I have no right to it. He
has fought every day of his life for this brilliant
voiceless language, this country as a brand of fire
he wields proudly, generously. I sit, my bloodright
in three different timezones. Listen to my grandparents
sing Tamil jokes across the table, accents arrowed &
twisting around distance. I’ve heard this story again
& again, geometric in the face of shapelessness.
One moment my grandmother, working beyond
recognition, disaster discarded on her tongue.
Boarding a flight for the first time. Learning
English because how else will America understand
her love letters. The next she reaches across the
table to pass me the dish of okra, whispering a
Tamil joke I only half understand & love anyway.
A prayer I can wear out loud, a wound I can salt
into keeping: this is how we tell our stories, keep
our promises. Become again to the sound of
our languages melting into dusk.