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Migrant Is Not a Metaphor

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or the burning of possible sanctuaries.
Though where he emerged, blue-skulled,
gowned by his mother’s aloe, a canyon lifted
its eye to the sun. He shouldn’t have been.
Like wolves in the white-faced room or
everywhere power makes insignia
of the gaping body. But it happened,
to trombones of light and the villainous
dream of the river. He is there now, fierce.
I was wrong to believe he was a message,
a hand wiping away steam from the mirror.
At first, there was only night and day
and the animal cries of the city. One told time
by the number of spoons collected to calm
the various hungers. Rain, sugar, sleep—
at times the movements of a father like wind
through bamboo leaves. The only bamboo
of course, is in his bones. Outside: a pristine
grid of fountains and pine needles, sky-
scraping ambition, broken young bears
in scrubland marked for development.
Inside him weather is building. Roses erupt.
A migrant learns to love as mothers do,
by trying and trying again. On the opposite
bank, there are men bending tenderly
over their infants. From this distance
their teeth are pennies in the bellies of fish.
And he is real enough to bend in similar
fashion, to coax breath out of brass
and the republic of stalactites. His skull is not
the earth anymore. In the morning he greets
its howling with a glass of milk, soap
under his chin, the monsoon of his lungs.

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Cynthia Dewi Oka is a poet and author of Nomad of Salt and Hard Water (Thread Makes Blanket, 2016). Her poetry has or will soon appear in The Massachusetts Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Black Renaissance Noire, Apogee, The Wide Shore, As Us Journal, Terrain.org, The Collapsar, Kweli Journal, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize nominee and alumnus of Voices of Our Nations (VONA), she has been awarded the Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor’s Prize in Poetry and an artist grant from the Vermont Studio Center. Cynthia is based in South Jersey / Philadelphia. Her next book of poems is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press.

Feature image by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Sumatra, Indonesia, 1950, printed 1960s. Gelatin silver print. Photograph from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. © 2016 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris.

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