We were brown and immigrant. We drove a Volkswagen and sang songs in the hymnals of white people. We loved these songs. And god was pinned to the underside of my skirt like a blood orchid.
I loved a boy named Philip. My mother sent me to his house with 100 eggrolls that she fried herself. We kissed until my tongue was tired. I didn’t know that— that the tongue could get tired, like any muscle.
I wore my own clothes on Halloween. I smudged my eyes with eyeliner and dotted my neck with two black dots.
What are you?
I flapped my arms like a pinwheel. Solar winds flooded me. I didn’t dare to think I could not belong. I was a wrapped baby of a kind of oriole. Wiping the sun’s juice off my face, I balanced on a pencil drawing of health insurance.
I wanted to be a poem. Ox-like, my family rose against me. Incensed, I could think of nothing else. Love abounding Loveabounding. If my family met a poem, they would really punch her in the face.
Huddled around the one bulb of health insurance, I said I wanted to be a poem. The poem played piano. Her arm muscles moved and she opened her voice and I knew she loved her husband, her children, her dog, her country. In this song, I saw the chips of mica in the asphalt. I held the cans of super saver. I touched bankruptcy and rusted bike chains. The tiny dot of my sister on the palomino of school leaving and then coming back again and then leaving, ad infinitum.
I had a brass portrait of the Pietà. Her lambent and impassive face looking down on the broken body, the broken language. The deep kelp of not belonging. Together we watched the tide go in and out of the fresh sown batteries of our country.
A draft of this poem would be good to read / to send to you.
Sarah Gambito is the author of the poetry collections Delivered (Persea Books) and Matadora (Alice James Books). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, POETRY, Harvard Review, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and other journals. She is Associate Professor/Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University and co-founder of Kundiman, a nonprofit organization serving Asian American writers.