April 19, 2005
I Didn’t Ask For My Parents
It isn’t like you bend
your dainty spirit neck
down from God’s baby-soul-land
and point to a copulating couple
who strike your fancy.
Don’t think it works that way.
You are blind-folded
and shot down through heaven’s tunnel
into life and where you plop
willy-nilly that’s your home.
The Jewish couple may be in
at the same time as their Muslim neighbor.
Where you end up
even the cherub who pushed you off
the edge can’t know.
We grow up forgetting
our incidental placements
become fond of whatever
bread and religion we are fed.
Who has salvation
when we all claim it?
*** *** *** ***
My Brother at the Canadian Border (for
On their way to Canada in a red Mazda, my
brother and his friend, PhDs and little sense, stopped at the
the guard leaned forward, asked: Where you boys heading?
My brother, Welcome to Canada poster in his eyes
replied: Mexico. The guard blinked, stepped back then forward,
said: Sir, this is
the Canadian border. My brother turned to his friend, grabbed the
map from his hands, slammed it on his shaved head. You stupid
he yelled, you’ve been holding the map upside down.
In the interrogation room full of metal desks and
chairs with wheels that squeaked and florescent light humming,
bombarded with questions,
and finally: Race?
Stymied, my brother confessed: I really don’t know, my parents
never said, and the woman behind the desk widened her blue eyes
to take in my brother’s olive skin, hazel eyes, the blonde
fur that covered his arms and legs. Disappearing behind a plastic
partition, she returned with a dusty book, thick as War and Peace,
said: This will tell us your race. Where was your father born? She asked, putting on her horn-rimmed glasses. Persia, he said.
Do you mean I-ran?
I ran, you ran, we all ran, he smiled. Where’s
your mother from? Voice cold as a gun.
Russia, he replied. She put one finger on a word
above a chart in the book, the other on a word at the bottom of
the page, brought
them together looking like a mad mathematician bent on solving
the crimes of zero times zero divided by one. Her fingers stopped
on a word. Declared: You are white.
My brother stumbled back, a hand on his chest, eyes
wide, mouth in an O as in O my God! All these years and I did
not know. Then
to the room, to the woman and the guards: I am white I can go
anywhere Do anything I can go to Canada and pretend it’s Mexico
At last, I am white and you have no reason to keep me here.
*** *** *** ***
Prisoner in a Hole
Barely twenty-five, he smells
of yesterday’s spit and vomit,
black beard droops in clumps
from his drawn, sun-savaged face.
Hanging from a string
around his neck: a small holy book.
This man was once a child
held against the breast of a mother
who kissed his small meaty hands
that smelled of milk and tears.
Poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé was born in Persia
but spent most of her teen years in the Caribbean and Europe, ending
up in the U.S. where she pursued Masters degrees in Radio-TV-Film
(Northwestern University) and Public Health (Johns Hopkins University).
She is the author of The
Scar Saloon (Red Hen Press, October 2004)
and her poems and translations have been published in many literary
journals and anthologies in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Her manuscript
of translations of a selection of Forough Farrokhzad’s poetry
is due for completion this September. Sholeh is the recipient of
several awards for her poetry and is the director and host of Poetry
at the Loft, a successful poetry venue in Redlands , Ca. She divides
her time between Redlands and Newport Beach, California. More information: SholehWolpe.com