Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Poem on Borders by Sholeh Wolpe

My Brother at the Canadian Border

by Sholeh Wolpé

For Omid

On their way to Canada in a red Mazda, my brother and his friend, PhDs and little sense, stopped at the border and the guard leaned forward, asked: Where you boys heading? My brother, Welcome to Canada poster in his eyes replied: Mexico. The guard blinked, stepped back then forward, said: Sir, this is the Canadian border. My brother turned to his friend, grabbed the map from his hands, slammed it on his shaved head. You stupid idiot, he yelled, you’ve been holding the map upside down.

In the interrogation room full of metal desks and chairs with wheels that squeaked and florescent light humming, bombarded with questions, and finally: Race?

Stymied, my brother confessed: I really don’t know, my parents never said, and the woman behind the desk widened her blue eyes to take in my brother’s olive skin, hazel eyes, the blonde fur that covered his arms and legs. Disappearing behind a plastic partition, she returned with a dusty book, thick as War and Peace, said: This will tell us your race. Where was your father born? She asked, putting on her horn-rimmed glasses. Persia, he said. Do you mean I-ran?

I ran, you ran, we all ran, he smiled. Where’s your mother from? Voice cold as a gun. Russia, he replied. She put one finger on a word above a chart in the book, the other on a word at the bottom of the page, rought them together looking like a mad mathematician bent on solving the crimes of zero times zero divided by one. Her fingers stopped on a word. Declared: You are white.

My brother stumbled back, a hand on his chest, eyes wide, mouth in an O as in O my God! All these years and I did not know. Then to the room, to the woman and the guards: I am white I can go anywhere Do anything I can go to Canada and pretend it’s Mexico At last, I am white and you have no reason to keep me here.

I saw Sholeh read this poem at my reading series Hitched at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center in March, and I fell in love with it. Before reading it, she shared that this happened to her brother and that it was a true story.

This poem is from The Scar Saloon (Red Hen Press, 2004)

You can hear Sholeh read this poem here or visit her website at

Hitched is an inter-generational reading series that couples established poets and writers with their emerging cousins. April 17, 2011 at 4pm we will feature Jenny Factor with Lisa Cheby and Mariano Zaro with Barbara Blatt. I hope you can make it!

Sholeh Wolpé is the author of Sin—Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad (University of Arkansas Press, Oct. 2007), The Scar Saloon (Red Hen Press), Rooftops of Tehran (Red Hen Press, Jan. 2008) and a Poetry CD (Refuge Studios). She is the coeditor of upcoming anthologies, Iconoclasts and Visionaries, and With Love, From Iran – Poems of Love and Seduction.

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