America

By Aria Aber

America the footsteps of  your ghosts are white stones weighting my center

America the old girls’ campus in the heart of Oakland where I teach
Grows quiet as glass marbles rolling between my feet

I pick one up, I say It’s pretty
And my students laugh, cheering Welcome to America

I have no one to look to this summer, I light a candle, burn the proposedly holy wood

And God does not come when summoned

Just the scent of   bonfire in my hair
Gold light flooding the bay window sure as a divination

America I divine nothing

In the other country, my parents wear their silence like silk robes each morning, devoted to the terrible sun

Day after day, I weep on the phone, saying  Even the classroom is a prison
And still my father insists But it is good to become an American

And so I cement my semantics
I practice my pronunciations, I learn to say This country
After saying I love

I rinse my aquiline face, wring my language for fear

I feared what had happened in your forest, the words that pursued the soft silk of spiders

The verbs were naturalize, charge, reside
The nouns were clematis, alien, hibiscus

America I arrived to inhabit the realm of  your language
I came to worry your words

What you offered is a vintage apartment, an audience for poems
Pills the color of dusk
To swallow so as not to collapse when I read the poem about my uncle

The reading of  which I owe him, to everyone who antecedes me

No, I mean who haunts me

The haunting of  which is a voice

The West is too young to be haunted, an ex-lover assures

Still, every night I listen to your voice scraping against my walls

And in the mornings, trivial offerings on my pillows
I pick the spiders from my bed, flush their curled transparence down the drain

America I don’t know what to make of  my ordinary cruelty
Or my newly bourgeois pain

Venom lacing each crack of  the historic apartment
Venom lacing the porcelain plates we hand out at parties

In the hallway I let someone touch me under my mask
Three fingers in my mouth
My back pushed against the door, the cold sink

The mind plays where it leads, a dark hour, the weight of a body on indigo tiles

America the scale says not thin enough

America my lawyer suggests to keep quiet about certain things
About you and me
So I write in my notebook your name, I write Country of
Cowboys and Fame

America I have no cowboy
And I have no fame

All I gather is the scratching of ink against paper, the laugh of a skeptic

There are nights we hear something likened to fireworks lighting up the humid campus
And my students cheer, they laugh Welcome to America

Later in the empty corridor, the disembodied voice of my uncle

Saying The classroom is not a prison
Saying Go, go home now and so I go

Past vetiver and cedar, past eucalyptus declaring the shoreline

Until I shiver on the soft-stoned coast on which my father once lay
And I proclaim what he did, I say This land is my  fate

America who am I becoming here with you
If I wander the same as without you, barely visible amid your indigenous trees

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