Where Are You Really From?

Winner of the 2021 Empower Her* Voice Creative Writing Contest. Judge Cheryl Buchanan commented:

“From its captivating first line, People are rarely satisfied with Massachusetts, which leads the reader all over the globe and back, this poem is a reclamation and a ride through our geography, our history, and our collective quest to identify, categorize, and size up one another based on appearance, and perceptions of class, education, accent, and reflections of our selves. Effectively, the speaker traces heritage and lineage (alternating stories and suspicions) through landscapes and snapshots with vivid and visceral detail.”

Where Are You Really From?

People are never satisfied with Massachusetts,
rarely with Oregon or Seattle. Where are you really 
from? Barbed wire and barren earth, a family
huddled in a horse stall on a fairground in the name
of Harmony. Rice fields and red envelopes. Where are you
really from? Mikan orchards, a fishing village.
A picture bride rising over the Pacific horizon
against the path of the sun—but we are not done
sifting through soggy, half-frozen clumps
of riverbank sand for gold buried underneath
the Alaskan permafrost, not done stalking
rabbits with a shotgun to drag back to a dirt-floor
house in a podunk Wyoming town. Where are
you really from?I’m Polish, I say, and people laugh
as if my grandmother’s grandmother did not scrub
the floors of a rich man who paid her passage
from a place no one knows how to name—
Austria-Hungary, Poland, or Ukraine. Pay no attention 
to the East Berliners behind the iron curtain,
to the sea captain’s apprentice who jumped ship,
stranding everything he owned in Australia. Where 
are you really from? How far are you willing
to dig? Our hole passed China long ago.

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