What I am told


Inspired by “The Naming Ceremony” by Sherman Alexie

My American name is One Among Only 20% of Americans Who Have A Valid Passport,
At least, that is how a British man identified me
as we waited in congested lines in the Kingdom of Bahrain’s airport.
Delayed flights.
The panic
of people of many nationalities
swarming, storming in thick clouds of pale sand,
Impossible to see eye-to-eye
Yet that British man was built like a linebacker from the Midwest,
a solid, fleshy wall,
He told me he dated an American woman who worked with him in a surf shop in Mexico
He acted as if he knew me
He acted as if he had me pigeon-holed,
With a flavor of distaste caught like phlegm in the back of his throat
My American name is America Good
At least, that is how an Indian boy greeted me in Kanchipuram
his two small hands each squished tightly into an enthusiastic thumbs-up,
Before returning to his game
Standing behind
the line
his friend drew in the dirt, with a stick
He jumped
As far as he could
His friend marked his landing
It was farther than his friend had jumped
“Super! Super!”
He looked at me, scanning for recognition
And smiled when I shared in his victory
by flashing a smile of my own
My American name is America’s Time Is Over
At least, according to a rich boy from Hong Kong.
He was keen
to let me know
That his father was among the wealthiest
Of Hong Kong’s Middle Eastern population
They knew, oh, they definitely knew where to put their money
The legs of my wine streamed
down my glass
as the legs of his cigarette smoke trailed
through the bars
that criss-crossed over my bedroom bathroom window
Once jovial, now stern
He told me
“China’s time is coming”
But he said it like a threat
(The shock,
more of his tone than his message,
Smacked the back of my throat)
As if I, a civilian, held sway
As if I, were an enemy
My American name is Foreign Sister
Bangalore Nagaratnammal’s final resting place was closed off
Beyond where I stood
Kids shot out spindly limbs to hit a small rubber ball
Men raised billowing, white tents large enough to shelter fifty
A community affair placed here
her final resting place rather than because of it
Standing slightly to the left,
I peered in between the bars whose white paint peeled
In shreds that blocked the already obscured view
Of a statue
made in her image
She was draped in bright blue and orange
And staring nobly on
Despite the web of white bars ensnaring her view
I was so engrossed, taking in each detail
That I did not hear the murmur and chatter behind me
Suddenly, one called out in words I could hear
“Foreign sister, foreign sister!”
I turned to see
young women in school uniforms,
Breathlessly excited to see me
My American name is You Have Sex
“I don’t have sex, I mean,
I just
haven’t had it
In response, he nodded, curling
His head low,
Not meeting my eyes
as his hands
Curled around my hips,
Applying pinpoint pressure from the pads of his fingers,
Pulling me
“I don’t believe you.” He said.
“You have sex. You are American.”
My American name is You Have Sex
At least, that is what he told me

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