WHAT AMERICA


What shined America
           did my great-grandmother sail

toward—immense fluting country of
           language her teeth never

learned to shape? Lantern. Gun. 
          Salt. White geese downed. 
Thick

necks she twisted
          to survive: meat for another

week, webbed feet’s delicacy
          on her immigrant

tongue. Singed.Country where
          she tiered up black

braids & wore long skirts
          into the ’60s. Famine

arrives in different bodies. Where
          she wanted her coffin

tapped three times
          against her brownstone’s door

to cross her to afterlife. 
          What moon-eyed Lady Liberty

did her son chase a world
          war for, burning camps

of ash & lamentation, giving
          his watch & shoes to skeleton

children in her name—
          she forsook Mass after a nun

forced that son
          to hit his sister with a ruler,

she buried two other
         small sons in her well

of dreams. Of stones. What
         America wakes

me, where everyone is pollen
           in someone else’s cross

hairs, where homegrown
          strawberries & tomatoes

bleed someone’s blood, 
          yet we still eat. 

What American dirt
          passages my great-

grandmother’s sorrows
         & spine—Mother of Dolors, 

you also buried your son
,
         our keening ground, 

my son & daughter hate
         knowing children

like them were sold
         away from their mothers’

haunted aprons, 
         where they touch my darker

skin: Mama, we’re all family here.


A 2017 NJ Council on the Arts poetry fellow, Nicole Rollender is the author of the poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love (Five Oaks Press), and four poetry chapbooks. She has won poetry prizes from Gigantic Sequins, CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. Her work appears in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, and West Branch, among others. She’s managing editor of THRUSH Poetry Journal and holds an MFA from the Pennsylvania State University. Visit her online: www.nicolerollender.com