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Minneapolis Public

By David Mura

There are 150 first languages in our schools
and so many aliens even E.T. would go unnoticed, 
though if your tongue moved one way in the land of your birth
it must move another now, awkward at first.

There are blacks here who've never been to Africa;
Africans who've never heard a Baptist prayer,
much less the solemn dirges of Lutherans
or how the artist formerly known is some sort of Prince.

In the anthology of American Buddhist poetry
you will find not one face of a Tibetan
but they are here with girls and boys named Tenzin
and one, my son's good friend, throws a hard mean spiral.

Esmir is not the name of a girl but a Bosnian
boy who crouches at a table and glues a lamp together
and later with my other son conspires on a book--"A Touch
of Rabies"--a heartbreaking tale of good dogs gone bad.

(Why tell a soul of the sieges that brought him here
or stories of the Dali Lama or the temples destroyed
or troops of the war lords in the streets of Somalia,
the borders dividing death from safety if not evil and good?)

Say you're Egyptian or Haitian: Here you're singular,
not part of a Big Apple ghetto. If you're Chinese,
most likely you're adopted, or else your parents study
engineering at the U. And have I mentioned the Mexicans?

In West Side Story the rumble starts with Puerto Ricans
and working class whites in a high school gym;
this year Maria's still Natalie Wood white to Jamaica's
half-black Anita and the Jets sport blacks, one Tibetan,

and my happa daughter who still doesn't question
such casting, or why Bye Bye Birdie last year
just might not be the choice of half the school
for a song and dance they could take on as their own.

Still at the spring school dance J-Lo and Ja Rule
set the awkward bump and grind of junior high girls
and the boys watch on the sidelines as boys that age do,
whether Bosnian, black, white, Somali, Tibetan.

I'm told we live in the Land of Great Lake Wobegon
where all the women are strong, the men good looking,
and the children above average--and, I always add,
everyone's white. Hey, Tenzin, Nabil, go tell Garrison:

Not now. Not quite.

Added: Monday, July 14, 2014  /  From "Angels for the Burning" (BOA Editions, 2004). Used with permission.
David Mura

David Mura is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, fiction writer and critic.  Mura has written two memoirs: Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei which won a 1991 Josephine Miles Book Award from the Oakland PEN and was listed in the New York Times Notable Books of Year, and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity (1996). His novel Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire (2008, Coffee House Press) was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the John Gardner Fiction Prize and Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award. Mura’s collections of poetry are: The Last Incantations, Angels for the Burning, The Colors of Desire, which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Friends of the Chicago Public Library; After We Lost Our Way, a National Poetry Series Contest winner.  He wrote a chapbook, A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography & Addiction.  His critical essays are Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity. Mura has received a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers’ Award, a US/Japan Creative Artist Fellowship, two NEA Literature Fellowships, two Bush Foundation Fellowships, five Loft-McKnight Awards, several Minnesota State Arts Board grants, and a Discovery/The Nation Award. Mura has also been featured on the Bill Moyers PBS series, The Language of Life. Mura teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program and the VONA Writers’ Conference.  He is Director of Training for the Innocent Classroom, a program designed to address the racial achievement gap by training teachers to improve their relationships with students of color.

Other poems by this author