• By
    Kate Garrett
  • 20th February 2017 at 11:01am

North by Midwest

North by Midwest
 
(or, Considering the shared tune of ‘My Country Tis of Thee’ and ‘God Save the Queen’)
 
They said ‘If you don’t like it, leave.’
They said ‘We don’t want you here anyway,
                you look foreign, and you’re one
                of them bleeding heart liberals,’
and then they said wasn’t it pretty funny
when the airport staff turned and asked
your stepfather if you spoke any English
while you stood so dark-eyed, Ohio born
and bred, next to your fair and freckled
Danish penpal. She sure was excited
to be visiting the States that summer.
 
And most of that was just your parents
offering a little light comedy,
in the doldrums between bruises and accusations.
 
So you go. You leave.
You fly over the ocean and you land four
thousand miles away in a country
floating between the seas, recovering bit by bit
from its own power-hangover,
and you make jokes that coat your throat
like black rest stop coffee –
America can’t handle its own freedom
and those rogue colonials should be given
over to the Queen again –
even though you’ve been here exactly long
enough to find the Royals
redundant.
 
And in those first few years, people call you ‘Miss
Ohio’ or ‘the Cincinnati Kid’ when they
find out where you come from, and they ask
why you would leave a place like that
for a place like this.
 
And you only tell them, because I love the rain.
 
You start to spell
‘colonise’ with an s
and ‘colours’ with a u
and one day people notice
your voice has changed
your vowels have flattened
and you say ‘to-mah-to’ without thinking
and you don’t say sidewalk or elevator anymore
 
because even though you can’t forget the sweetness
of apple butter on your lips
and you still seek out the sour
of dill pickles in a kingdom where too many pickles
are sweet (and now you call them ‘gherkins’)
and you can’t shed the glow of lightning bugs
from retinas holding thirty-five years
and two continents worth of vision,
 
you also don’t forget the way you were forgotten
unless she needed a punch-bag for her aches
or he was bored of calling her fat and useless
and wanted a new game to play;
you don’t forget the way your insides felt homeless
for nineteen years
and the way you have a home now, because  everything
makes more sense on this tough and battered little island
and how really you can’t beat a nice roast dinner
with Yorkshire puddings and proper gravy
(anyway, pickles and junk food are getting easier to find),
and the cry of tawny owls in the night behind your garden
softens the loss of the fireflies.
 
And you know your love for that land
(this land is your land, maybe,
you say, never my land)
where you grew
from a seed to a sapling
before your replanting
is still around, but now
it tastes of less than air
 
and when they ask if you would ever return
you tell them I can never go back.
 
You will never, ever go back.