Dedicated to Reina Yolanda Burdie
I was in Egypt nine months before the towers fell.
The people spoke to me in Arabic Roh Rohi
but I spoke back in English so they called me “American”
/I never called myself American.
America never called me American – not without a hyphen.
My best friend, Reina, doubles as a spirit guide.
I tell her she is my peace, the sister I never had
she says: Peace is thicker than Blood
said the trip to Egypt would change our lives and she was right.
After months of saving, we arrived just past midnight. Looking up,
my face was shoved between the long freckled legs of the Milky Way.
I saw night’s uterus, its bright neurons singing, its translucent scrotum,
its organs living, a barely black skeleton stretching across a raving
pulsating skinless sky. Beautifully broken, I wondered:
who stole all of New York City’s stars?
On the first day of our tour the world stopped.
All dropped to their knees in prayer in unison.
This was not a drill. Worship in 9D, so potent I didn’t understand
how in that moment that plot of land didn’t break away and float
directly to the heavens. I didn’t let myself cry. Holding it burned.
The pyramids of Giza are not hidden deep in the desert.
It’s sectioned off like Central Park in a mini city of its own.
Hollywood hyped me up for a week’s journey camel ride. Lies.
Stepping off the tour bus, I didn’t mind the 8 year olds running
up and picking our pockets in 76 languages. Dodging their quick
tiny hands, I was breathless to be in the presence of geniuses.
They spoke to me in Arabic / I spoke back in English
Where are you from? They asked.
I’m Dominican and Saint Thomian.
little faces, stumped…
but I was born in New York
Oh you’re American? They said.
My face, stumped…
/I never called myself American.
America never called me American.
Shopping at the market I let my peacock out.
After being repeatedly hustled, I learned quickly
how to bargain. Negotiating over a sterling silver letter opener,
I accused the extra-large salesman of robbing us blind.
He insisted it was a good price. I insisted it was not.
Ladronaso! Reina, he’s robbing us! Sir, you’re robbing us!
He flipped the fuck out, slamming his hairy baseball-mitt-sized fists
yelling in his beautiful accent:
GET OUT YOU STUPID AMERICAN BITCHES!!!
/again, with the “American”
I never called myself American.
I wanted to correct him but instead we ran for our lives.
When we caught our breath we laughed about it for hours.
Throughout the tour, everywhere we went we were mistaken
for one of them. The people spoke to us in Arabic and we were
flattered to be confused for magnificent Egyptians.
Me! King Hatshepsut. The Goddess Isis. A woman of the Nile
In New York, on the days following 9/11, everyone hung American
flags from their windows like a plea in unison.
And everywhere I went I was mistaken for one of them.
Waiting on a downtown train platform, I was called a fucking terrorist
by an extra-large white man, he spit where I was standing. A crowd
gathered salivating vengeance, full blown fury staring me down with hate
dilating their eyes. I wanted to tell them: Peace is thicker than Blood I didn’t
let myself cry. Holding it burned.
I had just survived 9/11 and yet, right then,
I had never been more afraid for my life.
And even when it could’ve saved me
I couldn’t bring myself to say:
I’m American. Even though I am.
Anacaona Rocio Milagro is a poet born, raised, and living in NYC. She earned an MFA at NYU’s low-residency program in Paris and an MPH at Columbia University. She’s been published in The BreakBeat Poets LatiNext anthology, Narrative, the Smithsonian Museum’s 9/11 archives, and LitHub, to name a few places. Find her on Instagram @poet.anacaona.