I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
I was once sitting with my husband at a local bar in Kentucky and the woman next to him was chatty — too chatty. I could sense a desperation that made me silent and withdrawn, while he, ever the nicest human on earth, put up with her nonstop jawing. Finally, exasperated that I wasn’t also engaging in the conversation, she yelled, “Does she even speak English!?”
We left the bar soon after that. We laughed about it. Made light of it. She wanted me to know that I didn’t belong. She was the kind of woman who would have told me to go back to my country. Which is, I guess, the country of California. I wonder what people mean when they say go back to where you come from. Where is that? Stars?
In today’s complex poem, we see what those hateful stereotypes might do. Poet Evie Shockley reimagines what would happen if everyone packed up and left this country, took with them every stereotype, every oversimplified image, and left. In my mind, it’s read in the voice of that spiteful woman at the bar.
by Evie Shockley
the black people left, and took with them their furious hurricanes and their fire-breathing rap songs melting the polar ice caps. they left behind the mining jobs, but took that nasty black lung disease and the insurance regulations that loop around everything concerning health and care, giant holes of text that all the coverage falls through. the brown people left, and took with them the pesticides collecting like a sheen on the skins of fruit. they went packing, and packed off with them went all the miserable low-paying gigs, the pre-dawn commutes, the children with expensive special needs and the hard-up public schools that tried to meet them. the brown people left, railroaded into carting off those tests that keep your average bright young student outside the leagues of ivy-lined classrooms, and also hauled off their concentrated campuses, their great expectations, their invasive technology, and the outrageous pay gap between a company’s c.e.o. and its not-quite-full-time workers. they took their fragile endangered pandas and species extinction and got the hell outta dodge. the black people left and took hiv/aids, the rest of their plagues, and all that deviant sexuality with them. they took their beat-down matriarchies and endless teen pregnancies, too. those monster-sized extended families, the brown people took those. the brown people boxed up their turbans and suspicious sheet-like coverings, their terrifying gun violence, cluster bombs, and drones, and took the whole bloody mess with them, they took war and religious brow-beating tucked under their robes. they took theocracy and their cruel, unusual punishments right back where they came from. finally, the white people left, as serenely unburdened as when they arrived, sailing off from plymouth rock with nothing in their hands but a recipe for cranberry sauce, a bit of corn seed, and the dream of a better life. there were only certain kinds of people here, after the exodus, left to wander the underdeveloped wilderness in search of buffalo, tobacco, and potable water, following old migratory patterns that would have been better left alone.
"anti-immigration" by Evie Shockley. Used by permission of the poet.