A Poem: American Soul

(Reproduced here is a poem that I wrote which appeared in the "Dialogue: Calvin College's Journal of Commentary and the Arts".)  

American Soul


Mr. U.S. Representative said, “It takes more than walking across the border to become an American—it’s within our souls.”


I don’t know what those words mean, and I don’t think I want to know.

But I can’t help but ask, what is an American soul?


I’ve never been so thirsty so as to cross a desert

so hungry so as to swim a river

in so much pain so as to clutch onto the edge of a train for days and days

only to end up with a job that pays change…

but it could’ve easily been me.


I see my face in theirs, their tongue sounds like home to me.

I too have brown skin, so sometimes the difference is only



Since when do borders delineate what is human?

Since when do they enclose the reach of our compassion?

Can’t you have one ounce of compassion? Enough to see the suffering?

Enough…to see the separated families.


Enough to see the children. It’s no fault of their own.

Little brown kids grow up in a society that’s reluctant to give them a diploma

but quick to deploy them.


Please don’t say this is simply my issue because these are my people.

Most of them are Christians—so if you’re baptized—they’re your people



What is an American Soul? When was it made?


Fearing “invaders”—we only fear ourselves,

our dark past within, our dark present without,

we’ve kept Columbus’ feast day.


What is an American Soul? What is its price?


I want to betray the melting pot, turn my back on this heresy.

I’d rather speak in tongues

even if I always feel homeless.

I’d rather speak in tongues

even if I’ll always be soulless.