Show Us Your Papers
a Poetry Anthology edited by
Wendy Scott Paff, Daniela Buccilli, & Cherise Pollard
ISBN: 978-1-59948-803-5, ~180 pages, $19 (+ shipping)
Projected Release Date: April/May 2020
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About The Author
Liz Ahl, Lauren Alleyne, Cynthia Arrieu-King, Valerie Bacharach, Les Bares, Madeleine Barnes, Joan Bauer, Jan Beatty, Herman Beavers, Richard Blanco, Doralee Brooks, Miles Budimir, Margaret Chula, Christopher Citro, Patricia Clark, Maryann Corbett, Craig Czury, Judith Dorian, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Denise Duhamel, S. Preston Duncan, Lois Edstrom, Zetta Elliott, Angele Ellis, Alan Elyshevitz, Susan Erickson, Patricia Frolander, Gail Ghai, Brian Gilmore, Kathie Giorgio, Melanie Henderson, Matthew Henry, George Higgins, AT Hincaple, Don Hogle, Paul Hostovsky, Ann Howells, Mattie Hyer, Naomie Jean-Pierre, Jacqueline Johnson, Jen Karetnick, Sabina Khan-Ibarra, Rosamond King, Janet Kirchheimer, Nancy Krygowski, Lori Lamothe, Lisa Lopez Smith, Sandra Marchetti, Ellen McGrath Smith, Tony Medina, Amy Miller, Irene Millman, Derek Mong, Berta Morgan, Charlie Neer, Liane Norman, Molly O’Dell, Nina Padolf, Anthony Palma, Nancy Pearson, Christine Potter, Marjorie Power, Bruce Pratt, Steve Ramirez, Charles Rammelkamp, Lauren Russell, Nicholas Samaras, Christopher Sanderson, Margaret Saraco, Kayla Sargeson, Janette Schafer, Noel Sloboda, Maxine Susman, Judith Turner-Yamamoto, Julie Marie Wade, BJ Ward, Sarah Brown Weitzman, Sarah Williams-Devereux, Cathy Wittmeyer, Warren Woessner
Show Us Your Papers speaks to a crisis of identity and belonging, to an increasing sense of vulnerability amid rapid changes in the USA. While corporations wait to assign us a number, here are 81 poets who demand full identities, richer than those allowed by documents of every sort. Here are poems of immigration and concentration camps, of refugees and wills, marriage and divorce, of lost correspondence and found parents, of identity theft and medical charts. In an era where the databases multiply, where politicians and tech companies sort us into endless categories, identifying documents serve as thumbtacks. They freeze the dancing, lurching, rising and falling experience of our lives. The disconnect between our documents and our identities is inherent, reductive, frustrating, and, too often, dangerous. Yet we cannot live without them. In this anthology 81 poets offer a richer sense of our lives and histories—richer than any “official paper” allows. These lyric and narrative forms demand that readers recognize our full identities: personal, familial, national, and historical.
Documents are fault lines where power and racism inscribe otherness, where governments inflame and enact anxiety about whiteness and “otherness.” They denote belonging, and exclusion. We trust in the safety they promise, only to discover the same authorities that issue them can rescind them, deny us, refuse to look at them. Identifiers such as driver’s licenses have never reflected the lived experience of black and brown men and women when they encounter police. No paper trail. No court cases. No opportunity for justice. A new form of documentation was necessary to make cultural change possible. Only when citizens began using their cell phones to document transgressions by police was evidence of police violence created. Without video evidence, state-sanctioned documents would offer the general public no trace and no justice.
Like driver’s licenses ignored by police, what good was a green card on January 27, 2017 for those in the air when the first Muslim ban was signed? That week, and too often, entry into the USA depended less on one’s papers and more on which airport a plane landed. Wendy was on vacation that day in Sedona, Arizona, like most of the American southwest, largely empty. Houses barely cluster. Lack of space is not the barrier to US immigration. That night she watched videos of people massed in airports. That week marked the beginning of years of an administration rescinding, ignoring, and changing the rules for its own documents. Rules which too often weaponize documents to exclude, especially brown and black people. Our contributors wrote of struggles to prove that they and their families belonged, both past and present: on the southern border, at Auschwitz, in Vietnam, Colombia, Israel.
Daniela recalls how she paused when an official at the Immigration Service required her to substitute allegiance to one country for another. Hoping her naturalization papers would grant her passage un-harassed, would allow her voting rights, she agreed. But a few years later, the oath was void, and dual citizenship was permitted. When a DNA report named a stranger across the country as a relative, she speculated on narratives that may have separated them. None of those documents provide a full reality, yet they can emboss a believable one. Or they can deny a lived experience. For example, Daniela filed for divorce as a young wife, then reconciled with her first husband. When she later called the lawyer to resume the process, he informed her she had been divorced for two years. The papers had been filed and not contested, and those papers outweighed her lived experience. Our poets wrote of similar experiences, when documents mock the reality of our lives.
Wendy’s father died of melanoma, following months of symptom progression. He lived in El Paso. She lives in Pennsylvania. He did not tell anyone he was ill. He got up every day and went to work until they sent him home. His best friend, another naturalized citizen, encouraged him to go to the hospital, which contacted his children, allowing them to say goodbye. For Wendy, the trauma of his death is linked, as it is for many, with executing his will. For two years she wrote letters, sent emails and faxes, blanketed Texas and Pennsylvania with a blizzard of death certificates, EINs, birth and divorce certificates, and with each, she felt she was losing a piece of his full, three-dimensional identity. Many of our poets wrote of this disconnect between a loved one’s identity on paper and the lived reality of that person.
Medical diagnosis and treatment are fraught with barriers created by papers. Cherise struggled for decades with symptoms that indicated a rare autoimmune disease that eluded proper diagnosis and treatment. Her symptoms suggested Behçet’s, a rare autoimmune disease defined as affecting people with Middle Eastern and/or Asian ethnicities. As an African American woman, Cherise did not fit the profile. It took a rheumatologist familiar with Behçet’s to look past documentation, listen to Cherise and provide accurate diagnosis and treatment. Even when doctors do not make errors of diagnosis, the reality of chronic illness cannot be captured by fat medical charts and insurance claims. Show Us Your Papers gives voice to patients and families who have been silenced, marginalized, overwhelmed by that disconnect.
Here are 81 poets and 3 editors who refuse to fear one another, to be divided by an administration that seeks to foment and benefits from hate. We refuse to be reduced to the categories “our papers” indicate. While difference exists among us, in cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds and experiences, we give no one, least of all governments, corporations and institutions, the power to reduce, divide, or estrange us. These poems are bridges across a two-dimensional landscape of numbers, indicators, and limited categories. Come join us in crossing them. Let’s meet in a space where documents do not define us.
Editors: Daniela Buccilli, Wendy Scott Paff, Cherise Pollard
At the Laundromat
The drums inside the huge dryers
roll everybody’s unmentionables
in continuous hot somersaults,
for however many sixteen-minute segments
we’ve got quarters for.
Everything we need is here:
cans of soda and snacks,
other people to talk to or not talk to,
tiny single-serving boxes of Tide or Cheer
that always remind me
of the tiny single-serving boxes
of Frosted Flakes or Cheerios
my brother and I would tear carefully open,
along the oddly placed perforations,
on road-trip rest stops, in motel rooms,
to be filled—the boxes themselves!—
with milk mom would produce
from the red Coleman cooler.
Here, there are magazines, chairs,
folding tables, wifi, laundry baskets on wheels,
even a seamstress, set like an anchoress
in her alcove next to the cashier’s office.
There is even a pen, a blue one,
which I use to circle a few words
on the photocopy draft
of my Last Will and Testament,
which I am finally getting around to—
but there are no major errors, just a typo
and a couple of dumb questions I want to ask,
mostly to feel like what I’ve paid this lawyer
is worth it for my simple, childless estate.
Now that I read it through,
I wonder about the “Testament” part—
is there something I could or should say
in these functional boilerplate pages,
beyond who gets what?
Some epitaphic pronouncement,
some pithy postscript or greetings
But the dryer has stopped hurling
my heavy blanket into itself,
has taken all the quarters I had to give it,
and I get up and pull the blanket out,
and it’s warm and dry enough,
and so I never get around
to adding any wisdom to the dutiful pages.
Just that one circled comma splice
and the faint, warm scent of dryer sheet,
an invisible page slipped in,
my small testament.
In Lebanon, 2000 June
It was the summer the Israelis withdrew, leaving behind
a landmined no-man’s-land of phosphorus orange groves,
blighted with white like the kingdom of the Snow Queen.
We shuddered with each jolt of the road, despite our driver’s
ancestral insouciance: This route has been cleared.
We stopped and showed our papers at every checkpoint,
Lebanese Army, Syrian Army, Hezbollah…
The closer we came to the border with Israel, the more
I closed the valves of my attention. I envisioned
the Crusader castle at Sidon—its riot of orange
daylilies—becoming flaming spirits of the dead,
silently screaming in the village wreckage of Qana.
The UN soldiers at the cinderblock outpost were kind.
We showed our papers, and exchanged chipper smiles
as we approached the barbed wire of Palestine. Daddy
pitched his scooped bit of rubble through the chain links—
as Edward Said had done—but I kept mine clenched
inside my palm until it broke the slippery skin.
A shard lodged in the privilege of my American passport.
Another pierced my damaged heart—surging
in cardiac panic at the helplessness of history.
is required for transport to all points beyond
a radius. It is speckled with biometric data:
inseam, girth, dosage of melanin. How many
flecks of green in predominantly blue eyes.
The tips of the cardholder’s fingers, those divine
snowflakes. Follicles losing integrity, at what rate.
Voice print: the cardholder’s peculiar dialect,
the sloppy vowels of local geography. The card
measures REM, when the cardholder falls
asleep at the wheel, and records all DUI’s,
as well as the cardholder’s chronic passions
for minor league baseball and Byzantine art.
The card is the cardholder’s anti-ephemeral
manifesto. Though nearly two dimensional,
it embraces generations of dispirited ancestors
and temporarily innocent offspring. In this way
its lamination is as deep as a pool of DNA.
If the card has a soul, it has absorbed it from you.
Song Without a Flag
I am undocumented
I have no docks to lament
My tears make the sea level rise
High water marks on my chin
This is my disguise
I move by moonlight
Stars map out my flight
At daybreak I wade through
Water, sift through sand
That choir you hear
The wind at my back
Somehow whistling Dixie
Through my rib
My great grandfather used to check
on government forms.
He wasn’t from Kenya, India, or The Philippines,
but he didn’t consider himself white either.
Whites were the ones
who owned the companies he worked for.
They owned the machines
that broke his body and mind.
They chased him to the bottle Friday,
only to drag him out on Monday.
At night they snuck into his room,
took his money and pride,
On the line provided, he wrote Italian.
He was right, but not in the way he intended.
We are a country of others,
our identities denied.
When I saw his death certificate, I laughed.
I imagined a doctor, pen in hand.
She saw his records, saw his rebellion,
written in that tight elegant script,
smiled slightly, thoughtfully,
and on the document checked white.