I’ve heard them talk of the East where the
giant green woman stands proud
welcoming passengers with open arms
the only open arms here are those
ready to usher us into cells,
iron cages where we will rust under bright lights
I enter the station where the people crowd,
schools of fish pulsing in swarms, like the ones we eat at home
I stand with shaky legs near those who sound like me, on the edges
I am shoved along with rough hands,
someone from home tells me to write in a bone-colored book,
my name looks like a skeleton
they lead us in solitude, one at a time,
through blank hallways, empty white-washed walls
their black uniforms like oil clouding the sea
I cannot follow the American’s steps,
I do not walk as fast as he does, or how sure,
I do not have the right shoes—mine are too scuffed, too grey.
I do not always know what he tells me, at home I know what to say,
but here every word sounds like a question.
I carry nothing but hope and a Bible. I open it.
An outdated photograph. An unfamiliar face. My father.
My favorite church dress is mutilated,
soiled by my own bodily fluids.
My stomach angrily speaks to me. Why can’t you help me?
Food is placed before me. I am not hungry anymore.
I feel trapped. I gasp for air, but the
putrid smell of shit and vomit is overwhelming.
The wind begins to howl, and as it does, so do I.
Mama shushes me, telling me that I have to be brave.
Children ask me to sing with them. Sing for what?
There is nothing harmonious about this journey.
I see a lady dressed in green, a torch resting in her hand.
I reach out to touch her, but the fog prevents my success.
Free at last. Free at last.
Is that you, father? Is this really freedom?
Our boat reaches the harbor,
a missile gliding into its silo.
Is this “war” really over?
I wait with mama, hunched
beneath her shawl
over the antique samovar,
steeped in worry of our
receipt. Success would be
the best revenge.
A surprisingly peaceful end to a regime
we had hoped would end in a refreshingly
simple mass stabbing.
My country has
and what do you call yours?
At the railing’s edge I can tell that
isn’t as pretty as mama.
Especially with eyes like those,
having seen all walks of our sorrow.
She takes small steps,
unsure of what she is getting herself into.
The swarm of people guides her path.
She slowly looks up toward the sky,
blinded by the sun,
and the intensity of her hope.
She takes her eyes off her feet. This time, she looks forward.
An American flag waves in the distance.
She tiredly smiles and waves back.
As she inches her way closer to the building,
she is ushered into a line. Single file.
Where she is going, she is not quite sure.
As she enters inside, the light fades.
She tries to find clarity in the darkness,
but her future looks so hazy.
She is inspected. Her body and her background are
She is cleared and she has received clarity.
Now it is her turn to inspect. She surveys the land.
Everything is clear. It passes her inspection.
They gather up passports
and he hands over his own
and the bureau puts the signal
to the wheels, carries the order
on high, permission for the addition of
yet another name to the census, faceless,
snared in a maze of velvet rope
and red tape, no thread for him to follow,
seeking reestablishment for naught,
and not to realize now what he forgot,
the candor of his olive skin
no fairer than his father’s,
to be birthed into this Earth
beyond the line on greener grass
breathing soil and dreams American.
Come one, come all!
when mama and I go to the border fence, I squint real hard and wait
until the planks become black in the dark.
I can still see through gaps to the other side
does the ocean touch the shore the same way over there?
I hear talk of American soil,
how it is better, how it is pure.
I hear talk of American cities,
so rich every building shines in the sun.
I don’t think my coat with its faded patches
would look as nice over there, but I will still wear it.
mama says it will keep me warm inside the cargo container,
she says this is the only ticket to freedom we can afford.
we have to cross at night, she says,
and pray that we don’t get caught.
I ask her why we cannot simply cross the ocean,
she says our English dictionary would get wet.