That my country always expects me to audition for my life, / I accepted as fact.
That my country always expects me to audition for my life,
I accepted as fact. A mark in the body to remember the work
of being a paper person, with or without papers –
all I wanted was to be a man
among other men. To come lithe and young
into a world. Each of us has his own rhythm
of suffering. To be American is to be a scholar
of opportunity. Opportunity costs. All this whiteness
that burns me. I sit in front of the fire and become aware
of my uniform. I had not seen it. It is indeed ugly.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
Inside me my heart, inside my heart
a museum – the overstayed visa, the recipe book,
the first passport, the birth certificate –
this is the terrible secret. So much of living
is a singular survival of the shame
of having lived at all, of having crossed over.
Note: This cento draws from work by Danielle Evans, Divya Victor, Franz Fanon, Roland Barthes, Kaveh Akbar, W.S Merwin, Yehuda Amichai, and Aline Mello. This poem won the Bain-Swigget Prize in Poetry in 2023 from the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan.