Immigrant #8: Under a Public Skin
On the corner of 33rd and 5th,
a skyline spreads silver over the skin of a Senegalese
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.
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
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,
When the BBC said, Never
has a city used silence
to such eloquent effect,