Thursday Poem: Conversation With Immigration Officer

“But the officer doesn’t smile back. She asks if you understand what she is saying.” (Illustration image by

She looks at your papers.
She asks your husband to step out.
She asks you where your husband’s birthplace is.
She is testing you. You answer:

we were made in water in free-flowing
salt water rich with plankton
& we keep a fire
in our lungs it burns white
red in the center like a hibiscus
you must know we are all manic
you must know we are not ink
more than pencil-point residue

She asks for the address of your current home.
You clear your throat and fold your hands on your lap.
Secretly, you imagine you have just met her
in a train, on the way to some undecidedly beautiful place.

we are living
in this continent for now
we had to leave paradise
when we became of age a common ritual
how about you? did you know
this continent is but a well-rooted boat?
did you know roots are easy
to snap?

The officer has a catalog of potential questions in her eyes.
You are the last question mark inside that list.
She asks if you have committed any crimes.

i have lied before
my memories
& my world are always
being devoured
by bright lime groves
but i am committed to lie
with love
to live
i thought everyone
committed lies
& wants

She asks what you had for breakfast.
What your husband had for breakfast.
You smile at what could have been
a question asked by a friend.

i pressed pearly remains
of snow into my mouth
drop drop drop…
i didn’t share
he peeled & ate a secret
he didn’t share

But the officer doesn’t smile back.
She asks if you understand what she is saying.

i don’t dream in languages
only in prophecies
& whale songs

Your lawyer, sitting behind you,
says everything is going to be all right.

i believe stories
become real
when you hunger
yes, yes, don’t words make you want
to believe?

But she isn’t smiling either. You shiver.
The air conditioner is always too cold, too powerful
in this country.

see how inside my thorax
minute icicles
prickle and shake
slightly at each hiccup
no … yes … no …

The officer says you will hear from them
in a couple of months. She asks you to leave.
She asks your husband to step in.


–by Ae Hee Lee
From Poetry Foundation

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