531: anti-immigration

531: anti-immigration

531: anti-immigration


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 I could sense a desperation that made me silent and withdrawn, while he, ever the nicest human on earth, put up with her nonstop jawing.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.