When I was little, I spent countless days with my grandma while my parents were busy at work. We would play in her garden, paint ladybugs in hidden places on the walls of her house, and make collages out of magazine cut-outs. Still, what my mind travels to first when thinking about the days we spent together is her pasta. I loved her pasta. To be fair, I loved all pasta, but there was something about how she made it, that I just loved. She would as me what I wanted for breakfast. Pasta. Lunch? Pasta. Dinner? Pasta. And she would always laugh and make it, read to my as I ate while making sure I was chewing with my mouth closed and didn't have my elbows on the table. Sometimes she would tell me about how she and my grandfather (before he passed away) used to travel all over for his work. They would fly from Egypt to England, Greece, France, and more. Vienna was always her favorite, and hearing about the handmade pasta in Italy was mine.
It isn't that I chose to study abroad in Rome because of the pasta, at least not just because of the pasta. Since entering UW I'd heard stories from classmates who had gone on and loved the experience, and when I heard that the topic of the 2017 trip was migration around the Mediterranean, I knew this was the year I needed to apply. Between the relevance of this topic to the current political climate and my interest in studying the connection between immigration, mental health, and cultural competence, the focus of our studies was a perfect fit. During our time in Rome, we had the opportunity to speak with clients at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center about their personal experiences, read articles centered on current immigration policy in Europe, and to investigate the complexities of storytelling and the rhetoric used by persons within different disciplines who address issues related to immigration, asylum seekers, and displacement.
For a final group project, some of my classmates and I decided to create a short collection of poems, artwork, and critical essays covering what we learned from the individuals we had the privilege of speaking with and the articles we read. The poem below is a sestina which I titled "Repetition." Although the "he" in this poem refers to "somebody" who has emigrated from his country of origin, this poem is not intended to be about a single individual. Rather, I aimed to integrate small pieces of the various narratives shared with me into one cohesive story. In this poem, I wanted to address how, by focusing only on immigrants' narratives of migration (as is common in popular media and news sources), we often strip them of a multifaceted existence outside of this narrative and an identity which existed prior to migrating. I intended to convey that when we demand that people who have migrated repeat their narratives of migration so that we can judge whether we believe their decision to leave their country of origin to be justified, we are demanding stories to which we should not be entitled. How when we define and group individuals by the label "immigrant," we also other these individuals, making it easier to dismiss their humanity and to deny them the basic needs and resources to which they should be entitled. I won't continue on with a full explanation of this poem, but I will end by saying that I chose to write a sestina because the use of repeated words (I used card, skin, glass, water, whether/weather, and repeat) built into this fixed verse seemed to fit well with the content I aimed to address.
He holds the two of diamonds, "a wild card," the dealer had said, in hands whose strength is tucked beneath brown spots, wrinkles, and skin stretched taught across swollen knuckles while sipping a glass of something far too pungent to be water. And he wonders whether a repairman will be called to unjam the jukebox from blaring The Kinks' "Repetition" on repeat
and whether tonight will be a repeat of yesterday: two wins, six losses, too much conversation, too little to drink, and more focus on the past than the cards in their hands. To weather another eleven p.m. of questions which dig at the sore scar tissue beneath his skin is to demand that ice not collapse into droplets of water when splinters of sun beat against its hydrogen bonds. But he remains glassed
in, and hands gesture that it is his turn to reminisce. "I remember glassing the rice fields and winding canals repeatedly as a child, when I was young enough to sprinkle our garden with a miniature watering can and for my mother to card her fingers, skin the color of roasted chestnuts, through my hair when the weather
thundered. I remember-" "I remember the weather was poor the day I clutched a compass in my right hand on the white, rubber dinghy, when I set out glassy- eyed, toward a foggy destination. The ridges in the rim left indentations in the skin of my palms. 'Request protection,' sped through my head on repeat. My throat was parched, and I wished to take a swallow of the sea, but instead I watched the sea swallow a man no more than twenty and a girl with a worn postcard clenched between her fingers, and I wished no more for water."
The russet brown of his irises swirls with water as his tear ducts act up without his consent, and he wonders whether it is worth winning a couple rounds of cards when each twelve a.m. he leaves wanting to glass the fools around the table for making him repeat the story which put wrinkles and brown spots and grey, curling hairs on his skin
before the age of fifty. The skin of chestnuts is tough, but his mother's was soft like the petals of water lilies, and come morning he repeats this to himself because each time the weather turns to rain, and showers pound against the glass windows at the bar where he sits, another piece of her seems to slip through the sewer grates amidst a stream carrying dirt, cigarette butts, and scattered notecards
down the street. Whether he goes or stays, "Repetition" seeps beneath his skin. A water glass shatters, a student belches, and "Repetition" repeats, uninterrupted. He has no use for the wild card in his hand.