Best Worst Year: Episode 93 (Or, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

Sleep in the ashes of American flags. The radio is a thermostat, taking the temperature of former homes. You know those streets with an ache in your calf. Your parents made a choice before you were school-aged, to pluck you from the subsiding coal fires and dead-eyed mining town for a better education and a small town life. You left home, went to school in the blast radius of your birthplace and from there you watched a city close its fist around the Latino population. Sons of immigrants, twice removed from Ellis Island wanted to ensure Spanish was an outlaw tongue–wanted bilingual to be removed from the lexicon of public services. Your skin was dark enough to bring you a second set of eyes when you were at the mall, but caused second takes when you opened your mouth. What did they expect? What did they even know about you, let alone about Filipinos? The mayor as Italian as a track suit, wholly ignorant to any color but white and green in the flag he flew.

line drive
in an empty ballpark
Charm City

Darn the frayed edges of stars and stripes. You tell her you want to move someplace where people’s first guess at what you are isn’t Mexican. Somewhere that knows words like lumpia and pancit and Tagalog. Not that you want them spoken to you, but where you can hear it spoken without the footnotes attached. Not that you want to immerse yourself in the slick silt of a rice paddy, but where exposition isn’t necessary. This morning you took an old friend to the airport and she commented on how quickly your hands find the pulse of a city. You know it’s a compliment but it’s also a curse. You want to feel the heart of a town by running your fingers across its wrists or chest–instead–you feel the tension with its thumb across your neck. The quickening breath, the red face debate of coffee shop conservatives who carry pronouns around like shields and blades.

ninety minutes from Ferguson
coffee more cream
than caffeine

This fire amends the protest but makes you less patriotic. Billie Holiday was the subject of your first conversation. She served as a mentor in wax to both of you. You never knew what passing meant when it came to color. You both have felt like imposters. She is standing in a spotlight, stage right in a sea of black. She is singing about a Baltimore you don’t really know. She is telling you everything about you and your mentors in ink. They will serve wine and cheeses in the foyer of a theatre, but will not know what to call you–even with a nametag.

black notebooks
thread this needle
through an entry wound

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, New South, and Smartish Pace. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.

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