Immigrant #8: Under a Public Skin

On the corner of 33rd and 5th,
a skyline spreads silver over the skin of a Senegalese
taxi-driver, drunk

with fatigue and probably regret. He picks her up
without tutting his tongue, drives towards Brooklyn.
The meter flicks to 2.50.

To Chinatown, between fresh fish and grime,
past a pagoda that refuses to move
to a garden of tranquility, they sail,

across an exhausted bridge.
And still, after a stack of sure-footed years,
she cannot leave Manhattan without glancing back

to watch the colossal torsos of buildings
shrink to less breathtaking size.
Still, she cannot leave without fear

the city might disappear by morning—
the weight of bodies
finally driving the slender strip of land to surrender

to quiet hours and silently sink
into the merging Hudson and East.
Still, she cannot ride along Flatbush,

without wanting to tap the taxi window,
to catch a pedestrian’s eye,
to proclaim, “This is my home.”

It is a lie, of course. This is not her home.
Her songs would be laments if she’d lived here
when epithets cut a girl’s skin and left

a severed relationship to land.
This land, that land, same script—Go home.
Different characters—the National Front, the Klan.

Her truth is a private graffiti
under a public skin—
three countries banding together

to spray paint: This land is not your home.
That land is not your home.
Your parents’ land

not home.Your only
home is your hand
.
The meter stops at 15.00.

Like a good American, she tips generously
wishes the other immigrant a good night.
Inside her home, hungry,

she microwaves her history—
the smells from three nations unite.
Tired, huddled,

her face in her hands—
North Africa wafts from her wrist.
Perhaps this bit of skin could belong.

 

Immigrant #9: Incantation by Phone

When   metal became ribbon
            & airplane tires fell
            1,000 feet from above;
when   people formed chains,
            someone flashed a light,
when   they walked out of building 5;
            I called you, Anna,
            to see if you were alive.
When   43,000 windows shattered;
            & a hurricane of paper
            remained whole and flew
            to Coney Island;
            I called you, Beatrice,
            to see if you were alive.
When   some held hands;
            others grabbed shoes;
            abandoned baby carriages,
            I called you, Charlene.
When   some hit redial
            & said, If I don’t see you
            again, I love you;
when   others called lovers
            & said, I’m not going to make it,
            I called you, Denise,
when   the city was struck
            dumb;
when   atheists said, We’re not
            religious; we don’t pray,
            but we said a prayer
            to somebody, something almighty,
            I called you, Eva.
When   someone said, Quiet,
            I hear something,
            I called you, Francesca and Greg.
When   someone asked,
            Whom did you lose?
            I called you, Hannah.
            I called you, Isabel,
            you, Jeremiah. Keta; Lyndell.
When   the smell of smoldering
            buildings and flesh melded;
when   people wrote
            WAR and GOD
            BLESS in the dust, on the wind
            shield of cars;
when   a preacher asked,
            Is there any word from God?
            I called you,
                               Marie,
            Nancy,
                               Olaf,
            Paul,
                               Quentin,
            Roy,
                               Sharon,
            Troy,
                               Una,
            Verna,
                               Will,
            Xianthi.

When   the BBC said, Never
           has a city used silence
           to such eloquent effect,

            Yin
                               &
            Zoe,
                               I called
            you.

 

Elena Georgiou’s book, mercy mercy me, (University of Wisconsin) won a Lambda Literary Award. She has received a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship, and is currently an editor at Bloom and at Tarpaulin Sky. Her recent publications appear in Denver Quarterly, MiPoesias, Lumina, the Cream City Review, and the Spoon River Review. She is on the faculty in the MFA program at Goddard College, Vermont.

Tags:
Identity
Migration & integration
Immigration
September 11, 2001
BOMB 103
Spring 2008
The cover of BOMB 103
Share