Brown travels

At every stop they ask where
are your papers, what is
your face, then proceed
to erase.

In the transit lounge
at Hong Kong, a woman
asks if I’m on vacation,
if my employer is kind.
Chinese airport staff
order us to move
out of the way.

In Provence, the customs
officer demands, Madame,
where is your male
traveling companion? I
look him in the eye
and say I’m here for
an academic conference.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, the female
officer scans the name on my Philippine
passport and the letter certifying I am
in between a change of status.
She calls a supervisor.
They look intently at my face
then back at the page.

At the market two blocks from Kazan
Cathedral, the cashier does not make
eye contact. She bags the groceries
of customers that come before and after
me. I go to the end of the counter
and pick up my oranges and bananas
and a plastic bag from a hook.

Summer, broken air conditioners.
In the barely moving queue at Heathrow,
a French girl asks in English: Are you
American? Guardedly, I say I’m on my way
to Chicago. She turns triumphantly
to her friends: See, I told you. All
the Americans wear the Jansport backpack.

In San Francisco, at the counter,
the woman takes one look at me
and my backpack and says, No
boxes at all? We’ll see
how many you’ll need
to check in on your
way back.

The festival organizer says
he would like to invite me.
The invitation comes with a program draft
listing events, participants. I run
my finger down the pages at least twice.
I don’t find my name, nor what
I’m supposed to be doing.

When I inquire I’m told
Oh it’s just a draft. Even if
there are names of other colleagues
who’ve been invited. Instead
of apology or clarification:
Oh it’s only natural that they
forgot you. It’s only natural.

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