Poetry Sunday: “Immigrants,” by Judith Ayn Bernhard

Immigrants The man next to you in the taqueria walked here from El Salvador. The manicurist down the block left Saigon when the Americans fled. The jeweler on Main Street came here from Palestine as a teenager. The gardener who tends your bed of roses is from Mexico. So is the chef in your favorite restaurant. And so is the guy who changes your oil and the guy who washes your car and so is your insurance agent. The dentist who looks after your teeth is from Iran. So is his wife who works in the office. And so is the optometrist who fits you with glasses and the man who changes the battery in your watch and so is his wife. The accountant who does your taxes every year is from Hong Kong. So is the woman in the dry cleaners. And so is the waiter in the Chinese restaurant and the student in the public library and so is his sister. The old woman who waves to you as you walk by her window is from somewhere else. So is the musician who plays his violin on the street corner. And so is the young woman selling scarves behind a counter. She is from somewhere else and you are from somewhere else and I am from somewhere else and they are from somewhere else. We are all from somewhere else and here we are all together now in melting pot America. That was the dream. Wasn’t it?   From Overthrowing Capitalism: Volume Four, edited by Jack Hirschman, Agneta Falk and John Curl (Kallatumba Press 2017).   Judith Ayn Bernhard is a former Berlitz School of Languages instructor and translator. She is a founding member and past chair of the Marin Poetry Center and a current member of Revolutionary Poets Brigade. Her book of poems, Prisoners of Culture, was published by CC. Marimbo in 2014, and available for order here and reviewed here. Her poetry has been widely anthologized. Bernhard lives with her husband Byron Spooner in San Francisco, where she teaches writing and occasionally gives public readings of her work.


Poet’s Note

Because I’m working on a manuscript of personal essays about life in San Francisco, I spend a lot of time thinking about the diversity of the city and how residents cross ethnic barriers to communicate with and help each other. “Immigrants” is a distillation, I suppose, of the ideas I’ve been formulating and putting on the page for the last year or so. I want my poetry to reflect sympathy for people who have come to this country seeking refuge and solidarity with all who struggle for a better life. I hope this poem does that.

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