~ after Kathleen Graber America, you were the cousin who joined a beauty contest the year before her visa application cleared so she could be a nurse somewhere in Rochester, NJ; she didn't think a roll of sheepskin inked with her name and St. Louis University would be enough. Soon after, she sent pictures of the doctor she would marry. America, we like to think there might have been love and not just the green card; we hear they're still together in their dotage. America, you were another cousin slowly dying from cancer, alone in an apartment in Maryland. I knew her only by name and the photographs she sent: her stylish bob, her cigarettes and drugstore-bought dark glasses. The patent leather Mary Janes she sent one Christmas, the walking doll with flaxen hair, white lace bib and pinafore, the vacant eyes that opened and closed (and give me nightmares even now). And you were a certain smell before we even began to understand what you really were—synthetic and abnormally clean, like Chlorox or Windex with a bottom note of soda left open in the sun. It wafted up from a box that took two months to ship from your flank or your hip or armpit: wherever it was people like us found neighborhoods where they could rent walkups whose stairwells overflowed with steam from rice pots. America, we can shine and scrub your floors without a Hoover or a Roomba, then punch holes in the bottoms of fruit cocktail cans so we can grow bird chillies and tomatoes on the veranda. We let a dentist in our old hometown pull out all our teeth so you wouldn't get the chance to do it and charge us triple. There is a fish we like to eat whose belly is soft and sweet and full of fat; but every bone in its body is a tree that bristles with more than a dozen spears. Like you, America— if we're not careful, we could choke on even the smallest mouthful.
Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) was recently appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia (2020-2022). She is Co-Winner of the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition in Poetry for Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, September 2020). She is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015; she also teaches classes at The Muse Writers’ Center in Norfolk. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.