Karen Petersen

(New York City)

This Land


The Arab kid at the checkout counter
notices the customer's scarf
and then he looks at her eyes,
almond-shaped, long-lashed, dark,
and they remind him of his homeland.
And when he softly says goodbye
and she leaves,
it's goodbye to all that,
and suddenly he's so alone
and soon he's weeping, weeping for his loss.

Outside, oblivious,
turbaned Sikhs wait on line,
lotto cards in their pockets,
cabs idling in the sun,
radios chittering in Hindi.
Across the street in the shabby park
Spanish workers are kissing their girlfriends,
purring phrases that would make Lorca blush.
It's all on a Sunday in New York,
but the bridge to Brooklyn and beyond
doesn't go Home.

The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building
and once-the World Trade Center-
all gave a crow's nest vantage for the prospects of
what is America, what might be America
just over the Verrazano Bridge,
past that distant fragment of glittering ocean,
and green expanse of New Jersey, opening out Westwards, endlessly,
towards the implied promise.
But instead neighbor competes with neighbor
in SUV, flat, green suburbia,
gossip at every window,
tv in every room,
drugs and tedium
in a land encompassing both infinity and boredom.

Mourn, America,
for that loss of sweet companionship
born of a shared undertaking
that no longer exists.
Weep, because we don't recognize our brethren,
and our streets, our lives, are all swagger and bluff.
America, our beloved departed
whom we struggle to remember
(such a delicate balance this country has
between remembering and forgetting)
may this Sabbath bring peace and tolerance
to every disquieted heart.

Submitted: Saturday, January 16, 2010
Edited: Sunday, May 06, 2012

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