Friday, August 31

Poetry Friday: Something About America

Maria Testa
Candlewick 2005

I was originally going to bow out of Poetry Friday this week with a collection of original things that, honestly, I wasn't sure were worth the electrons. Instead I discovered a collection of poems that caught me in a funny place. The night before I was ranting on to anyone who would listen (my wife) about all the things that I hated about this country and the way it behaves.

Then I pick up this book. The narrator of these poems weaves a narrative about escaping Kosova during the ethnic cleansing. She was four when her village, her house, were set ablaze. Her parents escaped to America, fleeing for their lives and for the hospitals that would help their daughter heal. And among the poems are diatribes from her father, complaining about America like any good American. I had to step back and think about my previous night's diatribes.

She continues, this girl, growing up in America, and American. Here's the poem that caught my attention.
One Small Sticker
(Like a Neon Sign)

On September 12, 2001
my father pressed
one small sticker,
an American flag sticker,
into a corner
of the outside window
on our front door.
He pressed it firmly,
perfectly straight,
like it was meant
to last

It's still there.
And every time I look at it,
that one small sticker,
fading fast
and curling around the edges,
seems to shine as brightly
as a blinking beer sign
in a bar window.

Beer inside!
American inside!

Please believe us.
I remember during the first gulf war, stories from urban centers where anyone who looked vaguely Middle Eastern fell under verbal and physical attack. I remember stories of native-born Pakistanis and Indians and even one Pacific Islander begging people on the news not to burn down their businesses, not to chase them from their homes. Please believe us.

The Kosava immigrants in the book settled in Lewiston, Maine where a few years after 9-11 the mayor had sent a letter to Somali leaders telling them that the town had "maxed out" on their share of immigrants. Then an anti-immigration rally was planned, and the immigrants organized a pro-immigrant rally. 30 people protested the immigrants, 6000 showed up to celebrate what it meant to be an American from another country.

In very simple language, simple images, small phrases and careful crafting Testa sets down a multi-faceted look at what it means to to be an outsider, an American by choice, and how easily those ideals that we consider rights by birth can easily be twisted into hypocrisy and fed by ignorance.

Why does tolerance intimidate and frighten so many who claim a religious upbringing?
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