Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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My Country, My Cousins

I used to think of my country as the space
we once traveled across to go see all my cousins.
I used to think my country was open, each person
in a town so small, in a land so open,
a stranger was no more than a cousin away.
I didn’t think this country needed a name,
or if it did, it was just another way of saying
And-So-On . . . shallow rivers, wagon ruts
a place no deeper than a grandparent’s footprint.
But I didn’t think about the many footprints washed
away or how they joined together to form a trail.
Growing up in such a place I could not see
the politics of maps that overcame
the open land until my country grew
so full of itself it would let no one else in.
And so we live in a place where the export
is exile and the horizon encircles us with
an edge that always keeps its distance.
Some of my cousins say they want to pack
up the immigrant trunk left in the attic
for five generations and leave this place.
Some are homesick and foolish, given over
to an odd nostalgia, daring each other to stick
their mother tongue against a frozen flagpole.
Sometimes they’re so stupid I want to disown them.
But we’re each on our own already, so mostly
I feel sorry for them. All our parents are dead now.
And there’s no word to stand for a grown-up-orphan,
not phantom limb, not footprint, only cousin,
because we’re the only ones left, and when we
meet at the funerals and we get to talking,
some of my cousins say they get frightened
as we walk toward a place called Terre Incognito
or Terre Finistre because it doesn’t sound American.
I want to tell them almost everything will be all right,
but I need to have a vision as big as a country like this.
I need open eyes. I need my eyes to be full
of the distance of living in a land this wide open.
I want to write to my cousins: I wish we were still close.
When I write them, I want to speak of a flat land
in a flat voice, because sometimes I’m frightened too.
I try not to say to my cousins: I am frightened
of you. Instead, we stand around the caskets
of our parents and we argue about orphans,
who are also our cousins, forced to stand
at the border inside the traces of their footprints.
The maps make me feel like I’m two places at once.
Some of my cousins feel that they are trapped
outside but they are trapped inside. And when
I go home I see my country is closed,
too full of itself it says to raise another orphan,
too full of itself for all my cousins, the second,
and the third, and the fourth ones twice removed.  

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