by Maria Melendez Kelson
"I fled the West Coast to escape them, but I still see illegals
Everywhere,” whines a letter-writer in our rural Utah paper,
Applauding a local ICE raid. “How does it feel to be a problem?”
Everyone (no one) wanted to ask Du Bois, circulating his elegant
Diction and mixed-race face among Atlanta glitterati, turn
Of the century, when the White Sixth Sense was “I can smell
Negroes and Jews.” The question ices my hair and eyelashes,
All Raza one family of suspects in this age of round-ups; am I
To breathe in prejudice, breathe out light? How does it feel
To be a problem? Some well-meaning White ones want a Christ of
Me, sacred heart on display. “Where are your documents
Naming this pain?” They hope for a nibble of rage. I see Lourdes,
Seven years old and sin documentos, embrace my daughter hello,
Good-bye, every day on their school’s front steps, the two of them
Giddy with girl pacts. When Lourdes solves subtraction problems,
Safe at her dim kitchen table, how does her mother, Elva, feel,
As her daughter works a language that will never add up to home?
Down the street, I see Rodolfo from El Salvador, legal refugee, dance
The glee of a Jazz victory in front of his big screen. Ask him how
Pupusas feel in his mouth, corn-dough communion with patria. His wife,
Inez, is fourth-generation Mexican American from Salt Lake City.
Fuck these pedigrees. How does it feel
For Rodolfo, Inez, Lourdes, me, to be seen as not-quite-right,
Not quite US, not from around here, are ya?
I will not say. I will not display our stigmata.
We shouldn’t need papers to cross from familia to politics.
Ask the seer-of-illegals, the maid of ethnic cleansing,
How it feels to hold a broken feather duster.
Maria Melendez Kelson’s poetry collections (How Long She’ll Last in This World and Flexible Bones) have been finalists for the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the International Latino Book Award. Her poetry, feature articles, and fiction appear in Poetry magazine, Ms. magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. Her mystery novel-in-progress won the Eleanor Taylor Bland Award for crime fiction writers of color from Sisters in Crime. She has taught writing and literature at Saint Mary's College in Indiana, Utah State University, and Pueblo Community College in southern Colorado, where she is currently a faculty member in English. Find her on Twitter: @mkelsonauthor.
“Because We Come from Everything: Poetry & Migration” is the first public offering of the newly formed Poetry Coalition—twenty-two organizations dedicated to working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities, as well as the important contributions poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. Coalition member Letras Latinas at Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies has partnered with the Best American Poetry blog to present ten poems in March that engage with this year’s theme, which borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” The poems in this project were curated by Francisco Aragón & Emma Trelles.