|Robyn Hood Black is hosting
this week's round up of poetry
at Life on the Deckle Edge.
But the story also touches me because I am a first generation American. My mother came to the United States in 1966, when she married my father. Even though my mom is British and shares a common language with us Yanks (as my uncle used to tease), there are a million small ways that she didn't fit in, didn't understand how things worked, felt isolated and alone. These small things are embedded in my childhood memories.
Leaving one's country is never an easy choice. I can't imagine what it must be like for families caught up in the current refugee crisis. Even if they make it to a country that offers asylum, there are a million small ways that they will remain outsiders. Integration into a new culture is gradual and often painful.
I'm so glad to introduce you to the poet Leona Sevick.
Leona and I first met at the 2013 Gettysburg Review Conference for Writers. Like me, she is bi-cultural and a first-generation American. Her poem "Lion brothers" walks the fence that immigrants must walk: acceptance lies on one side, maintaining one's home culture and sense of self lies on the other.
by Leona Sevick
Sometimes they sent her home early,
her hand bandaged tight where a needle
had pierced her. Home from school,
we found her curled on the floor, watching.
She woke early to put on her face
before we could see it for what it
wasn't, round and smooth and yellow.
Her legs tucked under her,
she held the mirror in her tiny hand
and painted on the jungle colors:
blacks and blues. At the factory
she tied tools around her waist,
slimmer than any boy's, though her arms
were knotted in muscles. She climbed up
beside the men, four feet above ground
on their vibrating monsters, machines
that worked like animals. Like pieces
of thread cut from the loom and dropped
clean, their words gathered around her feet.
It seemed like a child's word
if you didn't know the meaning.
Originally published in Frontiers: A Woman's Journal (Univ. Nebraska Press).
I asked Leona to tell us about the genesis of this powerful poem.
Lion Brothers is the name of a factory in Taneytown where my mother worked for 25 years. She made patches there--the kind that are sown on uniforms of every type (military, athletic teams, Boy Scouts, etc.). Every morning she woke up at 5 am to "put on her face." I thought of her makeup as her armor. She was the first non-white person to work at the factory. While she had a couple of very good women friends who worked alongside her in that ugly place, she also worked with many bigots and rough men. In time, many of them accepted her as well, though she never called them friends.
I remember that, Leona. Although she didn't work in a factory, my mother had a very hard time making friends after she emigrated. I don't think she had real group of girlfriends until my brothers and I were in our twenties.
Classroom teacher friends: I think "Lion brothers" would be a wonderful discussion prompt to get your upper middle school or high school class talking about stereotypes and the power of words, especially ethnic slurs.
And here's a little gift from Leona. This poem is for everyone who's using this weekend to recover from the first week of school.
Leona says, "Every day as I drive to work I pass a herd of 'Oreo' cows--Belted Galloways. One particularly dreary morning when I faced a task at work I wanted to avoid, I fantasized about being one of those cows. I know almost everyone can relate."
by Leona Sevick
Weeks like this one make me wonder how nice
it might be to be a cow just chewing, slowly moving
my jaws in clockwise angles. Frothing green trickles
between my teeth and at the drooping corners of my
single-minded mouth, I could lie down and rest
on legs not asked to move except to escape the winds
and stinging rain that come up from the south sometimes.
Or maybe I'd just stand here, letting the water wash my
tough hide--brown rivers of yesterday's dirt rolling
inevitably down into the holes I'm standing in--
thinking of nothing and no one in particular.
Leona Sevick's work appears in The Journal, Barrow Street, Potomac Review and is forthcoming in Poet Lore. She is the 2012 first place winner of the Split This Rock Poetry contest, judged by Naomi Shihab Nye. Her first chapbook, Damaged Little Creatures, was published in 2015 by FutureCycle Press (www.leonasevick.com). She is associate provost and associate professor of English at Mount St. Mary's University.
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