Poetry

1,723 Miles Away from Home

Natalie Scenters-Zapico

For years, doctors wrote in private files
of my paranoia, my panic disorders. I took
slow-release pills that made me start a story,

then laugh: I just told you this one, didn’t I?
Strangers would roll their eyes. But I was well liked,
and enjoyed holding company with the living.

I would wake up and count the hours until
I could return to bed. I suffered an illness caused
by the sun on my neck. A shrill opera of summer insects

made me want to be a mother like the mother I had—
a mother who wouldn’t get out of bed.
At dinner parties people would look for signs

of my poverty when I’d tell them I got married
at twenty-three on a hot day in June.
How to explain that the state has my whole life

documented in interrogations, home visits, photographs,
medical examinations, tax records, family history,
a bankroll of debt. Five years of humiliation

for a green card to arrive in an unmarked envelope.
A green card—not mine.
A green card for every person

I’ve ever loved who did not have one.
Couldn’t I swap out the numbers, the photo, the name,
each chipped facial scan? I could not,

but I imagined. I swore to never give that much of myself
to strangers ever again. But I did. I gave myself away
time after time. The girl dancing cumbia in the kitchen

never returned. No community would have me,
so I communed with the spoonful of bad medicine
under my tongue. After a reading to a full auditorium,

a woman nagged me through a microphone:
Tell the youth in this room what you do for self-care.
I told her: I spend long periods in silence

which help me survive another year.
Like most people, I fear dying.
Like most people, I fear dying far from home.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico is the author of Lima::Limón and The Verging Cities. She teaches at the University of South Florida.
Originally published:
December 1, 2021

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