I was born in Rhode Island in 1981. You’ll have to take my word for it.
My mother was there, of course, but she lives in Africa and can’t vouch for me. Her best friend, Frieda, was there, too. But they were very young then, and Frieda, at the lifting of the sheet, fainted, hit her head on a radiator, and had to be carted away.
I told this story to the nice lady at the records office, the one trying to find my birth certificate. She was dismayed by these details, as well as by others—that I have no drivers license or social security card; that I’d never met my father and that my grandparents are dead. She was a really good lady. Sweetheart, she said, I want to help you, but I just don’t know what to do!
When I got off the phone I had the strangest feeling that I didn’t exist. I had planned to spend the summer in West Africa visiting my mother, and had spent over two thousand dollars on a non-refundable ticket. The departure date was in three weeks. And then I’d lost my passport.
I’m a poet. I’m half-way tempted here to go into an essay on cliches about poets. I hate that some of them are true, as I hate my crushing and astonishing power for creating logistical catastrophe. However, what I ended up really worrying about, as I crawled through my closet looking for documents that might suggest I was myself, was what it means to be born in America.
What can it mean? It’s an accident. We’re dealing here suddenly in the spiritual realm. Why this mother, this part of the world? An American uterus in Rhode Island–
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