I was born from the undertow of empire,
tides of death that surge and recede.
I was born in a tent made of papers,
in countries with borders like sand castles.
What are you? my friends would ask.
I am PolishRussianGermanHungarianAustrian.
All my ancestors spoke Yiddish
Some of the Ways I Might Not Have Been Born
A visa left on a polished bureau. No warning
from a stranger. A new American not papering
Berlin-born children as citizens. A secret
hole in a Belarussian chimney unbuilt
for Cossacks to overlook. The Bronx
couch of an aunt already here taken.
A small girl who wouldn’t cross the ocean.
A mother who was not blind
before she lost her sight.
An unsteady teen who said no
to a ghost.
A visa. A warning.
A stamped paper.
Lori Rottenberg is a writer who lives in Arlington, Virginia. She has published poetry in many journals and anthologies, most recently in Minyan, Open: A Journal of Arts and Letters, The Jewish Writing Project, and Artemis. One of her poems was picked for the 2021 Arlington Moving Words competition to appear on county buses, and she served as a visiting poet in the Arlington Public Schools Pick-a-Poet program for over a decade. She is currently a Senior Instructor at George Mason University, where she teaches writing to international students and poetry to students in the Honors College. She is in her third year of studies at the George Mason University MFA Poetry program. Please see her website at lrottenberg.weebly.com for more information about her work.
Image: Normadic at English Wikipedia, User:Quistnix, बिजय पोख्रेल, and the PRC Government (as indicated in the file for the PRC passport), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons