Our Neighborhood in Revere, MA

Our Neighborhood in Revere, MA

By Bunkong Tuon

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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of poems about the immigrant experience in America. Our late Managing Editor, Okla Elliott, featured Bunkong Tuon’s work on As It Ought To Be back in January of 2017. Okla was particularly concerned about the anti-immigration rhetoric heating up in America and he hoped to showcase the voices of immigrants on our site. In honor of Okla’s memory, Tuon has allowed us to feature more of his poetry about his experience as an immigrant from Cambodia to the United States.

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Our Neighborhood in Revere, MA
(circa 1984 and 2008)

Listen, you have seen it before
in countless movies and TV shows.
No matter which city it is,
the markers are the same:

The sneakers on telephone wires,
the cracked sidewalks, the potholes
you try so hard to avoid
you almost hit the double-parked cars,
the graffiti on street signs and public buildings,
the apartment complex and family houses slumped
so close together that you can smell
your neighbor’s fried pork with rice,
where you can taste the lemongrass, fish sauce,
red chilies, and brown golden garlic,
as if your grandmother is cooking next door.
Houses where English is not spoken,
and the first image greeting you might not be Christ,
where you need to lift up the reservoir’s lid and pull
the string to flush the toilet,
where young men hang out on the front porch
with broken windows and no future.
An air conditioner sits on the brown grass.
A mother walks down the sidewalk,
with some of her children running ahead of her,
a baby in only a diaper, cradled to her chest.

You have seen it on the local news.
A young reporter staring wide-eyed
speaking with anxiety and concern
about a shooting that claimed the lives
of young bystanders, about a drug bust
where police found some untold
amount of coke, and you’re shaking
your head, wondering what the world
has come to, now that these foreigners
are ruining our America.

I was in the old neighborhood the other day
with my fiancée. Fresh from graduate school
studying postcolonial literature and theory
we went there to pick up some curry.
I scanned, trying to get a sense of the scene,
making sure the car doors are locked.
The streets, the smells, the sights reminded
me of the old days, the markers were all there,
but the people that I knew were gone.
Now there were Middle Easterners.
I guess the United States was no longer at war
with Southeast Asia.

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About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly  He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

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