Poetry: Migrant Is Not A Metaphor by Cynthia Dewi Oka

The press of associative leaps, dream like & urbane simultaneously, carries this poem. So much contained between the blue skull and the teeth-pennies—Cynthia does excellent work here to place side-by-side the reader’s relatable experience with the (dangerous) strangeness of exile & migrant-hood. She has achieved a dexterity of imagery—akin to Dean Young—that many poets can only dream of.


Migrant Is Not A Metaphor

or the burning of possible sanctuaries.
Though where he emerged, blue-skulled,
gowned by his mother’s aloe, a canyon lifted
its eye to the sun. He shouldn’t have been.
Like wolves in the white-faced room or
everywhere power makes insignia
of the gaping body. But it happened,
to trombones of light and the villainous
dream of the river. He is there now, fierce.
I was wrong to believe he was a message,
a hand wiping away steam from the mirror.
At first, there was only night and day
and the animal cries of the city. One told time
by the number of spoons collected to calm
the various hungers. Rain, sugar, sleep—
at times the movements of a father like wind
through bamboo leaves. The only bamboo
of course, is in his bones. Outside: a pristine
grid of fountains and pine needles, sky-
scraping ambition, broken young bears
in scrubland marked for development.
Inside him weather is building. Roses erupt.
A migrant learns to love as mothers do,
by trying and trying again. On the opposite
bank, there are men bending tenderly
over their infants. From this distance
their teeth are pennies in the bellies of fish.
And he is real enough to bend in similar
fashion, to coax breath out of brass
and the republic of stalactites. His skull is not
the earth anymore. In the morning he greets
its howling with a glass of milk, soap
under his chin, the monsoon of his lungs.


(This poem was first published in Guernica, June 15th, 2016.)



Cynthia Dewi Oka

Cynthia Dewi Oka is a poet and author of Nomad of Salt and Hard Water. Her poetry has or will soon appear in The Massachusetts ReviewPainted Bride QuarterlyBlack Renaissance NoireApogeeThe Wide ShoreAs Us JournalTerrain.orgThe CollapsarKweli Journal, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize nominee and alumnus of Voices of Our Nations (VONA), she has been awarded the Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor’s Prize in Poetry and an artist grant from the Vermont Studio Center. Cynthia is based in South Jersey/Philadelphia. Her next book of poems is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press.

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