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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 the author of four poetry books: the National Poetry Contest winner After We Lost Our Way (Carnegie Mellon, 1997)The Colors of  Desire (Anchor, 1994), which won a Carl Sandburg Literary Award; Angels for the Burning (BOA Editions, 2004); and The Last Incantations (Triquarterly, 2014). His two memoirs are Turning Japanese (Grove Press, 2005), which won the Oakland PEN Josephine Miles Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book, and Where the Body Meets Memory (Anchor, 1997). His novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire (Coffee House Press, 2008), was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the John Gardner Fiction Prize, and Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award. His newest book is A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity and Narrative Craft in Writing (University of Georgia Press, 2018).

Mura has taught at VONA, the Loft, and the Stonecast MFA Program. He has also works with the Innocent Classroom, a program designed by African American novelist Alexs Pate to improve teachers' relationships with students of color.

Other poems by this author