The American Poem

spices

I read Academy of Poets and Poetry Foundation
From time to time, and 60% of the time
I’m as aloof as a dog with a bone
A bone that is too far polarized, too outlandish
To gather to my poor old Sri Lankan intellect.

I read the long narrated stories
Of unfolding doorways and the occasional window gathered.
There is life convulsing in some
While others are a mystery why they made the cut
You always see “chancellor” or “award-winner”
Highlighted on notice, just to give
An extra dose of credibility to the reader.
And when you make sense of a verse or two
You can’t help but feel for the American audience
At the litter thrown at them by the aristocracy
The noble eye that doesn’t see or grasp
The loneliness of the American dream
The scars of not-making it and the scabs
That haunt the poets-in-making.
Decay and cracks that poison pupils
With the graffiti of free style.

And here in Sri Lanka, we never make the cut
For their lofty standards, we can’t name
Any bridge other than Golden Gate
Which we cliché with, leaving an anatomical part behind
In San Francisco. Perhaps even a jump to a black hole.
Perhaps there should be a poem called suicide watch,
On self-proclaimed wordsmiths
Who noose language and tighten
The hanging rope on simplicity. And perhaps freedom
The yankee venerates, can be squeezed
Out of the Gettysburg address, to make an
American poem – “why the uncaged bird can’t sing ?”
And we still read Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Unscramble a little spice from her name
And a little Tagalog in italics, and then we Asians
See Aurora borealis or perhaps plentiful fire flies
From skyline of the American poem.

And we will always be the foreigner
That has no stake in American poetry
We are just there to fill out blogs of convenience
That get a few likes the most. Yet the American
Poem lives in many of us. We criss-cross language
Like NY intersections, playing a game of chess
With poetic traditions. We are like
The Indian vendor that opens a hotdog stand
For a little cultured masala treat. We spice
Our words with the mainstays of tradition,
Garnish extended family, use the color of spices,
Venerate the temple and the church, give birth
To unholy alliances that can bridge polarized castes
And even colonial leftovers that we mix together
To make meatloaves of language.

And through the rejection
And the hopelessness of making it in America
We will crowd our blogs, peppering fonts
On a saffron screen, and we will shout out loud
“We will not shorten our names”, for we are proud
Of our lineages. And the American poem
Will linger on in the heartland, but we too
Will rise, stepping through the soil of peanut farms
Just like the black man once did. Goobers
Are not just for peanut butter, they too
Make the sweetest of satays, just like
We sweeten words with our sauces of culture.

And we too can stretch words
Or color them like holi, even make curries
That are too hot for the American palate.
The American dream, it is said, is like Moby Dick
As mammoth as an albino whale; and here
In the heart of Asia, we have more humbler dreams
– We don’t need to harpoon a white whale
Just to make it big as a poet –
A white elephant will simply do.

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Author: meandererworld (Dilantha Gunawardana)

Dr Dilantha Gunawardana is a molecular biologist who graduated from the University of Melbourne. He moonlights as a poet. His poems have been accepted/published in Kitaab, Eastlit and Ravens Perch. He mixes science with poetry for a living, when what matters is the expression of both words and DNA into something serendipitous. Although an Australian citizen, Dilantha is domiciled in Sri Lanka, his country of birth.

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