April is National Poetry Month, and while there are many ways to celebrate, one I enjoy is participating in the 30/30. Writing 30 poems in 30 days, one a day, like a vitamin to stimulate the creative juices in your soul… or to taunt and frustrate you mercilessly, depending on the day.
Sometimes you need a prompt to get you started. One recent source of inspiration for me has been the ongoing series of protests outside of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
Though I have only been there once, it is a place that made a deep impression.
In 2008, I met someone. We dated for about five months and then one day he was just gone. I don’t mean gone, like we had a fight and he stopped calling. I mean gone, like his housemates called me because he hadn’t been home in days, nor had he been to work. I called hospitals. I called jail. I waited. I wondered.
Then about two weeks after he went missing, I got a call from the Detention Center. Unlike jail, you are not afforded a free call, and my boyfriend had been detained without any money. It took him time to make friends who gave him what he needed to call me and let me know that he was about to be deported.
At the time I had no car, so I enlisted a friend to drive me to Tacoma. There I stood in line for almost an hour in a room that smelled like shit because there was no bathroom available before you passed through security and many mothers had to change their children’s diapers while waiting in line. I have never been, but I imagine this was what it was like to visit a loved one in prison. The lines, the metal detector, miserable armed guards glaring at you with contempt.
We said our last goodbyes separated by a partition of thick glass. I never saw him again. He was deported… sent back “home.”
No, I haven’t been back to the detention center, not even to protest, but I think about it often.
I think about citizenship and borders, how a group of foreigners could immigrate to a country, commit multiple genocides to colonize it, and then tell everyone else that they can’t live here without the proper papers.
Yes, there is a soap box sermon waiting to happen, but instead I leave you with a poem and a prompt.
Prompt: “When I get home…” “My home is where ____”: Write a poem about your relationship to home. What is home to you? What does it mean to be a citizen?
America: U.S. and Them
As published in “God, Hair, Love, and America“
They were singing for America
Crying out for America
Eating, dying, dreaming of America
Pledging allegiance to an indivisible nation
Hands over heart
stars and stripes
in the light of
the loss of
the illusion of sanctuary
the death of
a nation comatose with amnesia
we were witnesses
Ash and rubble burnt into retinas
the empty space in a skyline
stars and stripes so blinding
in the darkest night
of our country’s own
But from the ashes rose a fear
and from this fear
emerged a creation
a new brand of Other
a thickening of borders between
us and them
U.S. and Them
Them, They, Those People
Them, They, Those People
Them, They, Those Foreigners
And who could dismiss
that They had committed
They, Them Those
faceless amorphous Terrorists
They, Them, Those Foreigners
And us, we, you and me,
A nation of Americans
blind in our grieving
never forgetting what
They had done
that innocence is not a nationality
that even the pilgrims
singing for America
crying out for America
eating, dying, dreaming of America
Pledging allegiance to a nation indivisible
Hands over broken hearts…
Could I be the same?
Stand and say the pledge I know by heart
the way I stood and said my last goodbyes to him
hand pressed against the glass against his hand
bitter tears for a lover
who was not
the right kind of American
wrong color, wrong accent, wrong papers,
wrong place at the wrong time
wrong to think that
freedom and justice
were rights – that in America- couldn’t be denied.
How long did we stand in that line?
…to see our friends and families
one last time
Our fathers, mothers, lovers, cousins, sisters, and brothers
They, Them, Those People
locked in glass cages
disappeared for the sake of
a nation deeply divided
a people ambivalent
complicit and complacent
entirely too damn patient
when it’s clear
Remember when WE were singing for America?
Crying out for America?
Marching in the streets
Hands over hearts
Pledging our lives to the struggle
To make this America
A place worth singing for…
Need more inspiration? Check out Jordan Chaney’s poem “Conflict: A Poem for America’s Migrant Workers”