Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
 print preview

The Long Walk Home

My writing as a philosopher and as a poet celebrates the unsung lives of ordinary people. I write poetry for those who don’t know who they are or where they come from. The cycle of poems referenced here is in the tradition of epic poetry. A young heroine makes her way home, not from leading an army of hoplites, replete with arms and blood-spattered booty, but by recovering the life of her mother. Through the poems, I retrace my mother’s journey as a Jewish-Uyghur refugee while very pregnant with me. Traveling alone, my mother gives birth to me while on her way to New York City in the summer of ’89, during perestroika.

Moving through the weird geography cut by the loss of family and identity, I invite my reader to follow me to a train station in Vienna, to the steppes of Central Asia, to a welfare office in Brooklyn. As I wander, flashbacks of my mother from the places I actually knew her drift back to me, mostly scenes from my childhood. You meet me as a newborn baby, as a teenager in Coney Island—listening to my mom scold me because I haven’t appreciated her sacrifices—and, later, as an adult for whom loss inculcates the peculiar feeling of having the “dignity of someone standing next to a garbage can.” As I conclude my journey in the shadow of her journey, a new geography emerges. The same cities rise over oceans, but ghosts recede into mirror reflections: the shape of my hands and face as I consider the Atlantic Ocean. Loss becomes the patina from which to trace a new beginning. I stop waving my long goodbye.

My poetry is driven by humanism expressed in radical particularity. I encourage the reader to alight in another tormented corner of the world, to introduce themselves to strangers, to listen to those waiting in line for visas and “a ration of eggs and milk,” to begin their own long journeys that spiral out from mine. An optimist at heart, I write with the moral faith in our capacity to listen to each other. If the reader listens, I wonder, could our collective voices be an assertion—rather than a loss—of dignity?  

return to top