restricted access Origin Story
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Origin Story

Someone always asks me "where are you from"And I want to say a body is a body of matter flungFrom all corners of the universe and I am a patriotOf breath of sin of the endless clamor out the windowBut what I say is I am from nowhereWhich is also a convenience a kind of lie

When I was sitting in the Mumbai airport this JanuaryOn a forty-hour layover rushing home becauseMy mother had had a stroke and could not speakI wondered about my wordsPerhaps I am from my wordsBecause the basic biography is ordinaryBorn in Croydon to a mother and a father who

On different sides of a national borderWere married in war time and had to reunite in EnglandThe only place they could both get toBorn at home—76 Bingham StreetMidwived and not doctored into the world

Taken back to India when the war was overWhere I came into language and of the sevenThat were spoken in the house I began speaking four as the sameThen to the cold Canadian north we went to a town that no longer existsOn the other side of Cross Lake from the IndiansWho lost everything because of the dam my father was helping to build

Then to Winnipeg then to New York CityThen to BuffaloWhich I can claimI can say I am from Buffalo becauseIt is a city of poetsThe city of Lucille Clifton [End Page 110]

I arrive there in cold January to find my motherA little slowed down but still self-possessed enoughTo cook meals for everyoneEven if she didn't remember the names of all the spices she was usingShe talks by the time I arrive but slowly and deliberatelyAnd she has to listen very carefully to be able to respond

She pauses while she talks and cocks her head while she thinksShe does not criticize me nor say anything about my wild hairOur ordinary silence does not seem as suffocatingBecause I wait patiently while she strains to find each wordAnd what on earth does it mean thatI almost like my mother better this way

When my mother went to her medical appointmentI got out my copy of good woman and combed through its linesTo find the addresses where Lucille lived and grew upI climb into the car with a map and a journal and driveThrough the snow to find those places and take photographsOf the empty lots where the houses once stood

Listen:I have no answer to your questionI am not kidding when I tell you:

I earned my own voiceThe shape it makes in the world holds meI have no hometown no mother tongue

I have not been a good son [End Page 111]

Kazim Ali

Kazim Ali's most recent books are a hybrid novel, The Secret Room: A String Quartet (Kaya Press, 2017), and a monograph, Anais Nin: An Unprofessional Study (Sundress Publications, 2017). His fifth full-length collection of poetry is forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press in early 2018.

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