A short selection of poems to inspire diverse students to think about their own immigrant heritage and/or experience, and to introduce students to others.

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Richard Blanco, 1968

What I’ve written for you, I have always written
in English, my language of silent vowel endings
never translated into your language of silent h’s.
               Lo que he escrito para ti, siempre lo he escrito
               en inglés, en mi lengua llena de vocales mudas
               nunca traducidas a tu idioma de haches mudas.
I’ve transcribed all your old letters into poems
that reconcile your exile from Cuba, but always
in English. I’ve given you back the guajiro roads
you left behind, stretched them into sentences
punctuated with palms, but only in English.
               He transcrito todas tus cartas viejas en poemas
               que reconcilian tu exilio de Cuba, pero siempre
               en inglés. Te he devuelto los caminos guajiros
               que dejastes atrás, transformados en oraciones
               puntuadas por palmas, pero solamente en inglés.
I have recreated the pueblecito you had to forget,
forced your green mountains up again, grown
valleys of sugarcane, stars for you in English.
               He reconstruido el pueblecito que tuvistes que olvidar,
               he levantado de nuevo tus montañas verdes, cultivado
               la caña, las estrellas de tus valles, para ti, en inglés.
In English I have told you how I love you cutting
gladiolas, crushing ajo, setting cups of dulce de leche
on the counter to cool, or hanging up the laundry
at night under our suburban moon. In English,
               En inglés te he dicho cómo te amo cuando cortas
               gladiolas, machacas ajo, enfrías tacitas de dulce de leche
               encima del mostrador, o cuando tiendes la ropa
               de noche bajo nuestra luna en suburbia. En inglés
I have imagined you surviving by transforming
yards of taffeta into dresses you never wear,
keeping Papá’s photo hinged in your mirror,
and leaving the porch light on, all night long.
               He imaginado como sobrevives transformando
               yardas de tafetán en vestidos que nunca estrenas,
               la foto de papá que guardas en el espejo de tu cómoda,
               la luz del portal que dejas encendida, toda la noche.
               Te he captado en inglés en la mesa de la cocina
               esperando que cuele el café, que hierva la leche
               y que tu vida acostumbre a tu vida. En inglés
               has aprendido a adorer tus pérdidas igual que yo.
I have captured you in English at the kitchen table
waiting for the café to brew, the milk to froth,
and your life to adjust to your life. In English
you’ve learned to adore your losses the way I do.

From Directions to the Beach of the Dead by Richard Blanco. The Arizona Board of Regents © 2005. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

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Oscar Gonzales

What remains of my childhood
are the fragmentary visions
of large patios
extending
like an oceanic green mist over the afternoon.

Then, crickets would forge in the wind
their deep music of centuries
and the purple fragrances of Grandmother
always would receive without questions
our return home.

The hammock shivering in the breeze
like the trembling voice of light at dusk,
the unforeseeable future
that would never exist without Mother,
the Tall tales that filled
with their most engaging lunar weight our days
—all those unchangeable things—
were the morning constellations
that we would recognize daily without sadness.

In the tropical days we had no intuition of the winter
nor of autumn, that often returns with pain
in the shadows of this new territory
—like the cold moving through our shivering hands—
that I have learned to accept
in the same way you welcome
the uncertainty of a false and cordial smile.

Those were the days of the solstice
when the wind pushed the smoke from the clay ovens
through the zinc kitchens
and the ancient stone stoves
clearly spoke
of the secrets of our barefooted and wise Indian ancestors.

The beautiful, unformed rocks in our hands
that served as detailed toys
seemed to give us the illusion
of fantastic events
that invaded our joyful chants
with infinite color.

It was a life without seasonal pains,
a life without unredeemable time
a life without the somber dark shadows
that have intently translated my life
that slowly move today through my soul.


Todos volvemos al lugar donde nacimos

De mi infancia solo quedan
     las visiones fragmentarias
          de los patios tendidos
               como un naval terciopelo sobre la tarde.
 
 Entonces, los grillos cuajaban sobre el aire
     su profunda música de siglos
          y las fragancias empurpuradas de la abuela
               meciéndose en la noche
                    siempre recibían sin preguntas nuestra vuelta al hogar.

La hamaca temblando con la brisa,
como la voz trémula del sol en el ocaso;
el futuro imprevisible
que jamás existiría sin la madre;
las leyendas
cargadas de su peso lunar más devorador;
—todas esas cosas inalterables—
eran las constelaciones diurnas que reconocíamos sin tristeza.

Entonces no se intuía el invierno,
ni el otoño que retoña con dolor
entre las sombras de este territorio
—como el frío entre las manos doblegadas—
que hoy he aprendido
a soportar
de la misma forma en que se acepta
la incertidumbre de una falsa sonrisa.

Eran los días en que el solsticio
acarreaba humaredas polvorientas
por las ventanas de las cocinas de zinc
donde el fogón de barro milenario
decía oscuramente
el secreto de nuestros ancestros sabios y descalzos.

Las rocas deformes en nuestras manos
     parecían darnos
          la ilusión de eventos fabulosos
               que invadían nuestras gargantas de aromas desmedidos.

Era una vida sin dolores estacionales
     Vida sin tiempos irredimibles:
          Vida sin las puras formas sombrías
               que se resbalan hoy lentamente por mi pecho.

From Central America in My Heart / Centroamérica en el corazón. Copyright © 2007, Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingüe, Arizona State University.

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Li-Young Lee, 1957

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more.

Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.

From Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

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Alberto Ríos, 1952
      In Mexico and Latin America, celebrating one's
      Saint's day instead of one's birthday is common.


I was born in Nogales, Arizona,
On the border between 
Mexico and the United States.

The places in between places
They are like little countries
Themselves, with their own holidays

Taken a little from everywhere.
My Fourth of July is from childhood,
Childhood itself a kind of country, too.

It's a place that's far from me now,
A place I'd like to visit again.
The Fourth of July takes me there.

In that childhood place and border place
The Fourth of July, like everything else,
It meant more than just one thing.

In the United States the Fourth of July
It was the United States.
In Mexico it was the día de los Refugios,

The saint's day of people named Refugio.
I come from a family of people with names,
Real names, not-afraid names, with colors

Like the fireworks: Refugio,
Margarito, Matilde, Alvaro, Consuelo,
Humberto, Olga, Celina, Gilberto.

Names that take a moment to say,
Names you have to practice.
These were the names of saints, serious ones,

And it was right to take a moment with them.
I guess that's what my family thought.
The connection to saints was strong:

My grandmother's name—here it comes—
Her name was Refugio,
And my great-grandmother's name was Refugio,

And my mother-in-law's name now,
It's another Refugio, Refugios everywhere,
Refugios and shrimp cocktails and sodas.

Fourth of July was a birthday party
For all the women in my family
Going way back, a party

For everything Mexico, where they came from,
For the other words and the green
Tinted glasses my great-grandmother wore.

These women were me,
What I was before me,
So that birthday fireworks in the evening,

All for them,
This seemed right.
In that way the fireworks were for me, too.

Still, we were in the United States now,
And the Fourth of July,
Well, it was the Fourth of July.

But just what that meant,
In this border place and time,
it was a matter of opinion in my family.

From Celebrate America in Poetry and Art, edited by Nora Panzer and published by Hyperion, in association with the National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum, 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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Mahtem Shiferraw

My ancestors are made with water—
blue on the sides, and green down the spine;

when we travel, we lose brothers at sea
and do not stop to grieve.

Our mothers burn with a fire
that does not let them be;

they whisper our names
nomenclatures of invisibility
honey-dewed faces, eyes sewn shut,
how to tell them
the sorrow that splits us in half
the longing for a land not our own
the constant moving and shifting of things,
within, without—

which words describe
the clenching in our stomachs
the fear lodged deeply into our bones
churning us from within,

and the loss that follows us everywhere:
behind mountains, past oceans, into
the heads of trees, how to swallow
a tongue that speaks with too many accents—

when white faces sprout
we are told to set ourselves ablaze
and this smell of smoke we know—
water or fire, or both,

because we have drowned many at a time
and left our bodies burning, or swollen, or bleeding
and purple—this kind of language we know,
naming new things into our invisibility
and this, we too, call home.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Mahtem Shiferraw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 16, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

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Adrienne Su

A crate of peaches straight from the farm
has to be maintained, or eaten in days.
Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,
I never saw the mess that punishes delay.

I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,
stored it in the coolest part of the house,
then devoured it before any could rot.
I’m from the Peach State, and to those

who ask But where are you from originally,
I’d like to reply The homeland of the peach,
but I’m too nice, and they might not look it up.
In truth, the reason we bought so much

did have to do with being Chinese—at least
Chinese in that part of America, both strangers
and natives on a lonely, beautiful street
where food came in stackable containers

and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive
to the source, where the same money landed
a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.
You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded

by land enough to grow your own, if lawns
hadn’t been required. At home I loved to stare
into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains
of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate,

mysterious packets brought by house guests
from New York Chinatown, to be transformed
by heat, force, and my mother’s patient effort,
enough to keep us fed through flood or storm,

provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice
could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,
but so was everything else my parents did.
Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids,

who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,
to become typical immigrants’ children,
taller than their parents and unaware of hunger
except when asked the odd, perplexing question.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Adrienne Su. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

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Regie Cabico

Mother fetches the fruit from the mango grove 
       behind closed bamboo. 
       Rips its paper-leather cover during midday recess, 
before English class, describes their dance 
peaches plums cantaloupes before my first-world 
       eyes. When the sun blazed on the dust,

she let the mellifluous fluids 
       fall on her assignment books. 
Where the mangos were first planted, mother, 
an infant, hid under gravel 
swaddled by Lola, my grandmother, 
after my mother’s aunt and uncle 
were tied to the trunk 
       and stabbed 
by the Japanese. Mother and daughter living off 
       fallen mangos, the pits planted in darkness, 
       before I was born.

We left the Philippines 
       for California dodging 
U.S. Customs with the forbidden fruit, 
       thinking who’d deprive mother of her mangos. 
Head down, my father denies that we have perishable 
       foods, waving passports in the still air, 
motioning for us 
       to proceed towards the terminal. 
Behind a long line of travelers, 

my sisters surround mother 
like shoji screens as she hides the newspaper-covered 
       fruit between her legs. Mangos sleeping
in the hammock of her skirt, a brilliant batik 
       billowing from the motion 
of airline caddies pushing suitcases 
       on metal carts. 

We walk around mother 
       forming a crucifix where she was center. 
On the plane as we cross time zones, mom unwraps 
her ripe mangos, the ones from the tree Lola planted 
before she gave birth to my mother, 

the daughter that left home to be a nurse 
in the States, 
       who’d marry a Filipino navy man 
       and have three children of her own. Mother eating 
the fruit whose juices rain 
      over deserts and cornfields.

Copyright © 2014 by Regie Cabico. Used with permission of the author.

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Adrian Castro
—after Czeslaw Milosz


Let’s say he actually
did not
arrive on a boat—
that the relentless colonel
never found his subtle throat hidden
under the trance of the clave
or thunder hands that spoke
repiques of those crimes
Let’s say he went to Nueva York
on the assumption
Mario Bauzá
Machito or
Tito (Rodríguez or Puente)
could make his legs & hips move
in a constellation of joy
Let’s say he merely
tried
to hear the echo of his arms
flapping through a factory
like a red rag fastened to that fan
Let’s say the cold
often froze his vowels
tan Caribeña 
tan resualosa y mermelada—
Could the immigrant even
mute the melody of his tongue—
They say it is silence
that makes music
But this will be like
drumming
on a distant tuft of cloud like
the colonel cutting the sound he never found
But it takes years of forgetting
for a stranger
to breathe the saltwater
or glance at a pile of stones
& say
I arrived through this portal
This is now my home . . .

From Wise Fish: Tales in 6/8 Time by Adrian Castro. Copyright © 2005 by Adrian Castro. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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Chen Chen

I like to say we left at first light
        with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,
my father fighting him off with firecrackers,
        even though Mao was already over a decade
dead, & my mother says all my father did
        during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,
which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe
        around Piano Island, a place I never read about
in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family
        says they took me to, & that I loved.
What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?
        To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?
They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,
        & I say Yes it’s coming back, I say Of course,
when it’s No not at all, because when I last saw them
        I was three, & the China of my first three years
is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,
        my dream before I knew the word “dream,”
my father’s martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste 
        of history. I like to say we left at first light,
we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous
        kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,
& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say
        we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,
who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.
        I don’t like to say, I don’t remember crying.
No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don’t remember
        feeling bad, leaving China.
I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off
        on some secret adventure, while the others were
still sleeping, still blanketed, warm
        in their memories of us.
What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me
        for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,
a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,
        too male for crying. When my father said Get out,
never come back,
I cried & ran, threw myself into night.
        Then returned, at first light, I don’t remember exactly
why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims
        my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright
to see what had happened, reaching toward me with her hands,
        & I wanted to say No. Don’t touch me.
Another memory insists the front door had simply been left
        unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,
my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,
        before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.
I’m not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me
        is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.
It’s been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,
        her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has                          trouble
recalling who, why. I feel awful, my mother says,
        not going back at once to see her. But too much is                              happening here.
Here, she says, as though it’s the most difficult,
        least forgivable English word. 
What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?
        How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is
my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,
        English-to-English) mother’s voice? She might say:
We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,
        in early spring. Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,
waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.
        It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass
& metal of the airport—scent of my mother’s just-washed hair,
        of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride                over,
how I did not know those flowers were already
        memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the                  plane,
the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names
        I once knew, & my mother’s long black hair—so impossible              now.
Why did I never consider how different spring could smell,              feel,
        elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost
country. First & deepest severance that should have
        prepared me for all others. 

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen, published by BOA Editions. Copyright © 2017 by Chen Chen. Used with permission of BOA Editions.

 
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Marilyn Chin

an essay on assimilation

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of "be," without the uncertain i-n-g
of "becoming."  Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated "Mei Ling" to "Marilyn."
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn't pronounce the "r."
She dubbed me "Numba one female offshoot"
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the "kitchen deity."
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—
a gambler, a petty thug,
who bought a chain of chopsuey joints
in Piss River, Oregon,
with bootlegged Gucci cash.
Nobody dared question his integrity given
his nice, devout daughters
and his bright, industrious sons
as if filial piety were the standard
by which all earthly men are measured.

*

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we've managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We're not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the "Model Minority" is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!
Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we'll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we'll find China.
History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn't hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of "Santa Barbara"
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a "bitch."
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

*

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another's profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one
may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite—
"not quite boiled, not quite cooked,"
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people's destiny.
"To kill without resistance is not slaughter"
says the proverb.  So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

*

So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,
married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,
granddaughter of Jack "the patriarch"
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,
survived by everbody and forgotten by all.
She was neither black nor white,
neither cherished nor vanquished,
just another squatter in her own bamboo grove
minding her poetry—
when one day heaven was unmerciful,
and a chasm opened where she stood.
Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,
or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,
it swallowed her whole.
She did not flinch nor writhe,
nor fret about the afterlife,
but stayed!  Solid as wood, happily
a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized
by all that was lavished upon her
and all that was taken away!

From The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty by Marilyn Chin, published by Milkweed Editions. Copyright © 1994 Marilyn Chin. Used with permission.

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Victor Hernández Cruz, 1949
By the East River
of Manhattan Island
Where once the Iroquois
canoed in style—
A clear liquid
caressing another name
for rock,
Now the jumping
Stretch of Avenue D
housing projects
Where Ricans and Afros
Johnny Pacheco / Wilson Pickett
The portable radio night—
Across the Domino sugar
Neon lights of the Brooklyn shore

Window carnival of
megalopolis lights
From Houston Street
Twenty kids take off
On summer bikes
Across the Williamsburg
Bridge
Their hair flying
With bodega bean protein
Below the working class
jumping like frogs—
Parrots with new raincoats
swinging canes of bamboo
Like third legs
Down diddy-bop 6th Street
of the roaring Dragons
Strollers of cool flow

When winter comes they fly
In capes down Delancey
Past the bites of pastrami
Sandwiches in Katz's
Marching through red bricks
aglow dragging hind leg
Swinging arms
Defying in simalcas

Hebrew prayers inside
metallic containers
Rolled into walls
Tenement relic
Roofs of pigeon airports

Horse-driven carts
arrive with the morning
Slicing through the venetian
blinds
Along with a Polish English
Barking peaches and melons
Later the ice man a-cometh
Selling his hard water
cut into blocks
The afternoon a metallic
slide intercourses buildings
which start to swallow
coals down their basement
Mouths.

Where did the mountains go
The immigrants ask
The place where houses
and objects went back
Into history which guided
Them into nature

Entering the roots of plants
The molasses of fruit
To become eternal again,
Now the plaster of Paris
Are the ears of the walls
The first utterances in Spanish
Recall what was left behind.

People kept arriving
as the cane fields dried
Flying bushes from another
planet
Which had a pineapple for
a moon
Vegetables and tree bark
popping out of luggage
The singers of lament
into the soul of Jacob Riis
Where the prayers Santa Maria
Through remaining fibers
of the Torah
Eldridge Street lelolai
A Spanish never before seen
Inside gypsies.
Once Cordova the cabala
Haberdasheries of Orchard Street
Hecklers riddling bargains
Like in gone bazaars of
Some Warsaw ghetto.

Upward into the economy
Migration continues—
Out of the workers' quarters
Pieces of accents
On the ascending escalator.

The red Avenue B bus
disappearing down the
Needle holes of the garment
factories—
The drain of a city
The final sewers
Where the waste became antique
The icy winds
Of the river's edge
Stinging lower Broadway
As hot dogs
Sauerkraut and all
Gush down the pipes
of Canal

After Forsyth Park
is the beginning of Italy
Florence inside Mott
Street windows—
Palermo eyes of Angie
Flipping the big
hole of a 45 record
The Duprees dusting
Like white sugar onto
Fluffed dough—
Crisscrossing
The fire escapes
To arrive at Lourdes'
railroad flat
With knishes
she threw next to
Red beans.

Broome Street Hasidics
with Martian fur hats
With those ultimatum brims
Puerto Ricans supporting
pra-pras
Atop faces with features
Thrown out of some bag
Of universal race stew—
Mississippi rural slang
With Avenue D park view
All in exile from broken
Souths
The horses the cows the
chickens
The daisies of the rural
road
All past tense in the urbanity
that remembers
The pace of mountains
The moods of the fields.

From the guayaba bushels
outside of a town
With an Arowak name
I hear the flute shells
With the I that saw
Andalusian boats
Wash up on the beach
To distribute Moorish
eyes.

The Lower East Side
was faster than the speed
Of light
A tornado of bricks
and fire escapes
In which you had to grab
on to something or take
Off with the wayward winds—

The proletariat stoop voices
Took off like Spauldine
rubber balls
Hit by blue broomsticks
on 12th Street—
Wintertime summertime
Seasons of hallways and roofs
Between pachanga and doo-wop
A generation left
The screaming streets of
passage
Gone from the temporary
station of desire and disaster

I knew Anthony's
and Carmen
Butchy
Little Man
Eddie
Andrew
Tiny
Pichon
Vigo
Wandy
Juanito
Where are they?
The windows sucked them up
The pavement had mouths that
ate them
Urban vanishment
Illusion
I too
Henry Roth
"Call It Sleep."

From Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Copyright © 2001 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

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Rigoberto González, 1970

—from "The Bordercrosser's Pillowbook"

Fulgencio's silver crown—when he snores
the moon, coin of Judas, glaring
at the smaller metals we call stars
my buckle
the tips of my boots
the stones in my kidneys
an earring
a tear on the cheek
the forked paths of a zipper
the blade of the pocketknife triggering open
the blade of the pocketknife seducing the orange
the blade of the pocketknife salivating
the blade of the pocketknife
the word México
the word migra

Copyright © 2013 by Rigoberto González. From Unpeopled Eden (Four Way Books, 2013). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

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Ellen Hagan

the ones who brought your father here, come. Bring
with them whole almonds, dried berries & clementines
wrapped in cloth. Their clothes & smart shoes too.

They come looking for the place I've taken your father.
Looking for the New York City that could rival home.
Your Abba loves the East Village, its graffiti, trash
& all the languages on all the streets.  On 14th & 1st,
we visit the Phillipines. Elvie's Turo Turo.

But this trip, he wants to see more. So,
we travel to Little Philippines, Queens, 69th
off the 7 train, off the 7 the whole of Queens
opens wide for us. Travel agents & whole-
sale, send anything back for cheap, travel
for cheap, return, return. We buy OK
magazines by the handful for gossip
Tagalog with English subtitles, glossy
photos, Pacquiao, his chiseled grin, everywhere.

And we eat. Krystal's where they serve
marinated pork belly, sinigang na baboy,
kare-kare, pancit bihon, & lumpiang sariwa,
I listen close to it all. Deep fried ruffle fat,
poolee noodles with shrimp, milkfish.
Your Abba fake orders pork blood stew
but I am sure I would eat anything here
because this is how much I trust the two
who brought your father up in the world.

We eat sing-sing & pork in tamarind soup.
This is how to say snack in Tagalog: Merienda,
Merienda is snack. This is how to say ice-cream
in Tagalog: halo-halo, halo-halo
is ice-cream. This is how to leave your country.
Don't look back. You will only see the islands
melting away. Halo-halo.  This is how to say snack in tagalog.
Merienda. This is how to feel of one place & of one more.

Back home, we sit, get caught up. I read
about mansions in Manila, how to make millions,
facelifts & silken hair, red lips, muscles & beauty.
In Tagalog, I muddle through, while your Abba
laughs, translates, translations get muddled too.
This is how to raise a baby in two places at once, & how
it feels to live and move in two worlds. At once.

Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Hagan. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

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Juan Felipe Herrera, 1948

she ambles toward El Norte she remembers as she steps
wasps & spiders webbed in between the corn in Fowler
her mamá Concha’s story the fire she fanned to clear
the path through the thick burned stalks all this
she almost-touches the blueberries in Skagit Washington
& the line of men wrapped as cocoons and dark as amber
flecked honey at the line the only store in Firebaugh where
you can cash your check shirts twisted & whispered & upright
down in Illinois in Cobden you go through the back door
of Darden's bar to buy drinks for the foreman El Cuadrado
María’s coming home after returning to Atizapán de Zaragoza
where she works at la Tortillería next to la Señora Muñóz
it is an abyss smoked & metal flat and deep with nixtamal
“Good pay in South Georgia” she says “I’ll work the
cucumbers” feet in water skin see-through peels & peels
off & off then on Saturday bussed to Walmart bussed back
to camp season after season the crossing higher alone
or with groups of three the coyote says “I am leaving you
here at the bottom of this mountain you Indians know how
to climb” she remembers Guadalupe Ríos say from the edge
of Santa María Corte in Nayarít “Nosotros los Peyoteros
sabemos caminar We know how to walk” María de la Luz
with an address in her net-bag her son who was taken many
years ago 1346 D St. San Diego will she recognize Juan
is the street still there who is he now who am I now who
will he remember you this ancient trail of grandmothers &
deportadas “I know how to walk” María de la Luz prays
as she ascends the black mountain as she moves her body
tiny as she listens to the sudden rush of things fall among
thorns & hisses María de la Luz notices a band of light

Copyright © 2017 Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

 
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Edward Hirsch, 1950
Let's not forget the General
Shuffling out in his gray slippers
To feed the pigeons in Logan Square.

He wore a battered White Sox cap
And a heavy woolen scarf tossed
Over his shoulder, even in summer.

I remember how he muttered to himself
And coughed into his newspaper
And complained about his gout

To the other Latvian exiles, 
The physicist who lived on Gogol Street
In Riga, my grandfather's hometown,

The auxiliary policeman from Daugavpils,
And the chemical engineer,
Who always gave me hard candy,

Though grandfather spit
And grandmother hurried me away
When she saw them coming.

Copyright © 2012 by Edward Hirsch. Used with permission of the author.

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Joseph O. Legaspi

Amphibians live in both.

Immigrants leave their land,
hardening in the sea.

Out of water.

In Greek, amphibian means
“on both sides of life.”

Terra and aqua.  Shoreline.
In fresh water:

amphibians lay
shell-less eggs;
immigrants give birth
to Americans.

Tadpoles, polliwogs
metamorphose: gills
in early stages.  On land,

amphibians develop lungs.
Immigrants develop lungs.

Through damp skin
amphibians oxygenate.

Immigrants toil
and sleep breathlessly.

Skin forms glands. 
Eyes form eyelids.

Amphibians seek land; immigrants, other lands.

Their colors brighten, camouflage.

They’ve been known to fall
out of the sky.

Fully at home in the rain.

Copyright © 2014 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

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Walter K. Lew
We have to bury the urns, 
Mother and I. We tried to leave them in a back room, 
Decoyed by a gas lamp, and run out

But they landed behind us here, at the front gate.
It is 6th hour, early winter, black cold:
Only, on the other side of the rice-paper doors

The yellow ondol stone-heated floors
Are still warm. I look out to the blue
Lanterns along the runway, the bright airplane.

Off the back step, Mother, disorganized
As usual, has devised a clumsy rope and shovel
To bury the urns. I wonder out loud

how she ever became a doctor. 
Get out, she says Go to your father: he too 
Does not realize what is happening. You see,

Father is waiting at the airfield in a discarded U. S. Army
Overcoat. He has lost his hat, lost
His father, and is smoking Lucky's like crazy. . .

We grab through the tall weeds and wind
That begin to shoot under us like river ice.
It is snowing. We are crying, from the cold

Or what? It is only decades
Later that, tapping the cold, glowing jars,
I find they contain all that has made
The father have dominion over hers.

Copyright © 2002 by Walter K. Lew. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.

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Mary Jo Salter, 1954
President Roosevelt, touring Ellis Island
in 1906, watched the people from steerage
line up for their six-second physical.

Might not, he wondered aloud, the ungloved handling 
of aliens who were ill infect the healthy?
Yet for years more it was done. I imagine

my grandmother, a girl in that Great Hall’s
polyglot, reverberating vault
more terrible than church, dazed by the stars

and stripes in the vast banner up in front
where the blessed ones had passed through. Then she did too,
to a room like a little chapel, where her mother 

might take Communion. A man in a blue cap
and a blue uniform—a doctor? a policeman?
(Papa would have known, but he had sailed

all alone before them and was waiting 
now in New York; yet wasn’t this New York?)—
a man in a blue cap reached for her mother. 

Without a word (didn’t he speak Italian?)  
he stuck one finger into her mother’s eye,
then turned its lid up with a buttonhook,

the long, curved thing for doing up your boots
when buttons were too many or too small.
You couldn’t be American if you were blind

or going to be blind. That much she understood.
She’d go to school, she’d learn to read and write
and teach her parents. The eye man reached to touch

her own face next; she figured she was ready.
She felt big, like that woman in the sea
holding up not a buttonhook but a torch.

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Salter. Used with permission of the author.

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Vijay Seshadri, 1954

Even though I’m an immigrant,
the angel with the flaming sword seems fine with me.
He unhooks the velvet rope. He ushers me into the club.
Some activity in the mosh pit, a banquet here, a panhandler there,
a gray curtain drawn down over the infinitely curving lunette,
Jupiter in its crescent phase, huge,
a vista of a waterfall, with a rainbow in the spray,
a few desultory orgies, a billboard
of the snub-nosed electric car of the future—
the inside is exactly the same as the outside,
down to the m.c. in the yellow spats.
So why the angel with the flaming sword
bringing in the sheep and waving away the goats,
and the men with the binoculars,
elbows resting on the roll bars of jeeps,
peering into the desert? There is a border,
but it is not fixed, it wavers, it shimmies, it rises
and plunges into the unimaginable seventh dimension
before erupting in a field of Dakota corn. On the F train
to Manhattan yesterday, I sat across
from a family threesome Guatemalan by the look of them—
delicate and archaic and Mayan—
and obviously undocumented to the bone.
They didn’t seem anxious. The mother was
laughing and squabbling with the daughter
over a knockoff smart phone on which they were playing a
video game together. The boy, maybe three,
disdained their ruckus. I recognized the scowl on his face,
the retrospective, maskless rage of inception.
He looked just like my son when my son came out of his mother
after thirty hours of labor—the head squashed,
the lips swollen, the skin empurpled and hideous
with blood and afterbirth. Out of the inflamed tunnel
and into the cold room of harsh sounds.
He looked right at me with his bleared eyes.
He had a voice like Richard Burton’s.
He had an impressive command of the major English texts.
I will do such things, what they are yet I know not,
but they shall be the terrors of the earth, he said.
The child, he said, is father of the man.

Copyright © 2013 by Vijay Seshadri. From 3 Sections (Graywolf Press, 2013). Used with permission of the author. 

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Ryan Teitman
The days unfold
like maps. Fresh dirt
in the garden, black
as cake, grows warm.

The roses perform
a silent recital,
each playing its part
from memory. I wait

for my father the way
men wait for a train.
I wait for my father
the way a dancer

waits for music.
My mother is a curtain
in the window.
She calls me in

to fit my shadow
for a suit. I keep still
as she pinches the tape
around its wrist.

Around her neck
my mother’s pearls
clink like teeth.
Your shadow grows

faster than you do,
she says. She says
that waiting is
a kind of dancing.

At night I dance
with the stillness.
My blood waits
behind my chest

like a man behind
a locked door.
My father waits
in another country.

Copyright © 2014 by Ryan Teitman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2014. 

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Mai Der Vang , 1981

Never step back    Never a last
Scent of plumeria

When my parents left
You knew it was for good 

     It’s a herd of horses never
           To reclaim their    steppes

You became a moth hanging
Down from the sun

Old river    Calling to my mother
Kept spilling out of her lungs

Ridgeline vista closed
Into the locket of their gaze

                     It’s the Siberian crane
           Forbidden    to fly back after winter

You marbled my father’s face
Floated him as stone over the sea

Further    Every minute
Emptying his child years to the land

You crawled back in your bomb

           It’s when the banyan must leave
     Relearn to cathedral its roots

From Afterland, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2017 Mai Der Vang. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

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Ocean Vuong

My grandmother kisses
as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes
through the kitchen window,
as if somewhere, a body is falling apart
and flames are making their way back
through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,
as if to walk out the door, your torso
would dance from exit wounds.
When my grandmother kisses, there would be
no flashy smooching, no western music
of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe
you inside her, nose pressed to cheek
so that your scent is relearned
and your sweat pearls into drops of gold
inside her lungs, as if while she holds you
death also, is clutching your wrist.
My grandmother kisses as if history
never ended, as if somewhere
a body is still
falling apart.

Copyright © 2014 by Ocean Vuong. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

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Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city, 
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, 
   unruly, musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old, 
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays,
   superb,
Rich, hemm'd thick all around with sailships and 
   steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, 
   strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown, 
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining
   islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, 
   the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model'd,
The down-town streets, the jobbers' houses of business, the 
   houses of business of the ship-merchants and money-
   brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week, 
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses,
   the brown-faced sailors,
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing 
   clouds aloft,
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the 
   river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or 
   ebb-tide,
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form'd, 
   beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng'd, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the 
   shops and shows,
A million people--manners free and superb--open voices--
   hospitality--the most courageous and friendly young 
   men,
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts! 
City nested in bays! my city!

This poem is in the public domain.