This is America, as I recall
the wonder of it: immigrants like me
who fled their homes—wherever “home” might be,
whatever drove them out of it—ran for
your storied soil, and did not find a wall,
but a wide open door.
Beyond the door, the classroom, full of noise
less unfamiliar as the girls and boys
morphed into playmates with new words to teach,
new foods, new games—and losses of their own:
old people trading smiles for lack of speech.
They made me less alone.
And what baggage we brought from distant places
into your cities! Memory; the loss
of neighborhood, shared language, friendly faces;
the fragrance of night-blooming cereus;
the clang of church bells hailing the first light,
and faint guitars at night.
Transplanted to a soil not quite like ours,
among your “waves of grain” the nameless flowers,
we send down roots, reach for the sky, and grow
among the native seedlings sown below—
if opportunity’s impartial drops
water the hybrid crops.
We are the crops we pick, the work we do;
if we move on, our labor pays the fare;
we grow into the uniforms we wear
in lab and stadium, operating room,
on the cop’s beat and in the veteran’s tomb.
And so we become you.
And who, America, are we today?
Who will we be in years to come? In those
we turn away, will we forget to see
strangers who welcomed strangers? Or will we
remember, and forbid the door to close
on those we used to be?
Who will track down the children sent away
far from a father’s arms, a mother’s voice?
Who will unearth the photographs, the names,
the homes of family, where those refound
may gather to rejoice in the sweet sound
of children at their games?
Dominican-born former high school English teacher Rhina P. Espaillat has published 12 books, four chapbooks, and a monograph, including some in English and Spanish, and translates into and out of both languages. Her work appears in numerous periodicals and anthologies, and has earned many national and international awards. She is a frequent reader, speaker, visiting poet, and workshop leader at literary events, and co-founder of the Fresh Meadows Poets in New York and the Powow River Poets in Massachusetts.