In My Purse I Carry
After Jane Hirshfield
In my purse I carry my passport
sanctioning my travel across borders.
In my purse I carry my application
for residence in the country of my hopes.
In my purse I carry credit cards, dollars and euros
for creature comforts in my life abroad.
In my purse I carry a reliable pen
to sign my name on official documents.
In my purse I carry a mobile phone
to send word of my departure and my arrival.
In my heart I carry a chamber of determination
and a chamber of fear and desperation.
In my head I carry visions of contentment, liberty
and the hefty tribulations of my native land.
My Muse has been detained by Immigration,
separated from me, not allowed to enter,
she is interrogated by an agent:
What is the purpose of your visit?
To transport a poet beyond her repertoire.
Your expected length of stay?
Until she ceases to be a poet or to be.
Describe the conduct of your work.
Speaking through her as she awakens.
How much do you earn for your service?
We never speak of earnings.
Do you have an address in this country?
I have no fixed address anywhere.
Waking in my foreign bed and waiting
in December’s late dawn, praying she be granted
a Muse Visa, come and slip into her place within me.
The history teacher walking the ten-minute walk
from school to his second-floor apartment…
In his head, his five-year-old son’s cheerful
upturned face waiting to greet him.
The aroma of Au Coeur des Petits Pains
where he buys his daily bread, in his head.
In his head, his students’ speeches
debating why France lost the Algerian War.
The hour of his match tomorrow morning
at the Eragny Tennis Club, in his head.
In his head, yesterday’s argument with his wife
about risking their safety.
The name of a student’s father who has issued
a fatwa against him, in his head.
In his head, his rebuttal, claiming defamation
and the right to freedom of expression.
In his head, he hears footsteps, turns his head
to see a youth with a knife and a cleaver.
Swinging the cleaver the assailant shouts
Allahu Akbar and cuts off Samuel Paty’s head.
* Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris
Friday, October 16, 2020
Florence Ladd’s novel, Sarah's Psalm (Scribner), received the 1997 best fiction award from the American Library Association's Black Caucus. Her poems have been published in The Women’s Review of Books, The Progressive, The Rockhurst Review Sweet Auburn, Transition, MUSE and River Stories III. Her chapbook, Reclaiming Rose, appeared in 2015. She lives in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, France.