Asylum Song

Asylum Song July 23, 2019

Half Taiwanese, half white, I heard from random strangers, both black and white, growing up in Arkansas, “Go back to China.” Of course it’s racist to say something like that. It’s asinine to argue otherwise.

But what matters far more to me is how many days will we allow to go by as children sleep on concrete, under fluorescent lights, separated from their families? THAT trauma, already enacted under Obama and made so much worse under Trump: is this all politics to us? Or do we see the suffering human?

I hear both partisan camps, and I say to hell with all ideology and gamesmanship. The soul of the nation is in contest, and what matters first is what happens to the bodies of the powerless.

Until a poem came to me, I did not want to speak on the latest circus surrounding the President. I suppose it runs the risk of being didactic, but I am very happy with this one.

Asylum Song

Black 47 struck, we fled
To haven in the West.
The empire’s blight could not be shed
Without such Irish quest.

The landless and the mafia-ridden
From Italy were next.
By opportunity now bidden,
We still took sail perplexed.

Some few years on, Russian pogroms
Sent more of us to Ellis.
“To America!” our latest psalm,
For cosmopolis then zealous.

Now famine, gangland anarchy,
And rape compel more north
To the country of humanity.
They would be us henceforth—

If we were truer to ourselves,
If we remembered grace
For every time we’ve fled to realms
Of mercy closely chased

By powers claiming right to seize
Our children, livelihood,
What feeds our dreams, our family’s peace.
They only stand where we have stood.

In other hearts, in other lands,
We prayed less foreign than
They seemed, we’ve sought to find the hands
Of humans who would span

Their current safety and our crying
Need, beneath the span of heaven,
Its mercy seat above all dying,
Commanding all be leaven.

None has lived without the Zion hope
Of city on a hill
Where refuge might allow us scope
To live beyond bad will,

Beyond the powers’ right to seize
What stragglers they can net
In prisons far from knees
To plead for help from threat.

Are there no altars in the soul
Of America to clasp?
Is there no pity to patrol
Our home against the grasp

Of demons of the blood and soil
Possessing our possessive
Minds to puppet-yell “that’s mine,” embroiled
By lords who dispossess us?

We bleed upon our every margin:
The dying left alone,
The children in our sexual dungeons,
The battered wives, the mother thrown

Into a crisis with a child
Growing in her womb—
A baby who commands a mild
Response from us for whom

The law of charity is law.

No more, America,
No more refusal of the awe,
As esoterica,

The simple fact of neighbor need.
We all are refugees,
And as a wave we must recede
From our selfish effigies.

Between each one of us and death
There runs the mercy way.
The question hidden in each breath,
Will we be seized today?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!