When you enter a town follow its customs,
Praise the people and their kindness,
Kiss their flags, groom their peacocks,
Love their wars, leaders, and politeness.
The people will like you, open the doors wide.
They may lock their pantries, slap and hide
Their daughters, but never because of you.
You’re a nice good one, not the other kind.
They’ll watch you from their high windows,
Grin from behind the doors with spy holes,
Ask who you are, where you’ve come from,
What you think of these shores of freedom.
They’ll adore you for your garbled words,
Teach you to speak as everyone should.
They’ll say, All this is a work in progress,
So we’ll ask you to trim our branches,
Water our lawns, manage our kitchens.
If a man is liked by his fellow men, he is
liked by God, he is rewarded in heaven.
His before-life shall matter to none of us.
At night they’ll lock the iron gate, give you
A knife and blanket, keep you outside, safe.
There might be wind and rain, or even snow,
Night beasts with their howls. If you do awake
The following morning, the gate shall fling open,
And you’ll be welcomed and disremembered.
When you enter the town, follow its customs,
Praise the good people, our kindness, endless.
Aleksandar Hemon’s most recent book is My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You. He teaches at Princeton University.