My boss wrote a poem called “Undocumented” and it’s beautiful. He said he wrote it because he’s been reading up on undocumented immigrants. He said he knows it’s my life and he doesn’t want to be in any way offensive. But he said “It’s actually your life. But I think that’s why I wanted to write something.”
And here we’re on the same boat: It’s my life. And I want to write something.
But poetry takes contemplation. And concentration. And meditation. And I could easily meditate on poverty, stare at it with a magnifying glass, switching instruments to inspect it. And maybe I could come up with beautiful words, and write a poem. That distance is forgiving. It’s a glass, not a mirror.
Could I write a beautiful, authentic poem about being undocumented? Is that impossible? Or am I just too weak? Have I no courage to face that mirror, that title, head on and do my own rumination?
A white man wrote “Strange Fruit.” I didn’t know this. He stared at a picture of a man lynched, hanging from a branch, and he contemplated the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth. He thought of the trees and the way a body rots like fruit rots. And Abel Meeropol wrote a haunting, beautiful poem. Could a black man write it?
But what about Langston Hughes who had to convince America (whatever that means) that he too could sing? That he too had value? Who contemplated rivers? And what of Maya Angelou who pondered caged birds?
Maybe I am too weak to look in the mirror. Too afraid to write beautiful poetry on my own experience. And if it’s my own fault, then should I keep my white American boss from writing? Should I say that because I can’t, he can’t either? To what end? One fewer beautiful poem. One fewer voice speaking about undocumented immigration. More silence to add to mine.