Established in 2015, the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network, Inc. (CVRAN) is a Board-governed, registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Montpelier and dedicated to making our communities welcoming safe places for New Vermonters from countries around the world to visit, work, and live in.

Some of these New Vermonters are refugees who were in refugee camps for many years, and suffered from persecution, violence, instability, deprivation, and homelessness before being allowed to enter the United States. Others are asylum seekers who are unable to return to their home countries for the same reasons but fled as individuals or families and are in the process of applying to the federal government for asylum. And still others are migrant farm workers who have left their permanent homes to work on dairy farms, usually for years at a time.

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有 識: Have Knowledge

Paisley Rekdal
–From the immigration questionnaire given to Chinese entering or re-entering the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion Act

Have you ridden in a streetcar?
Can you describe the taste of bread?
Where are the joss houses located in the city?
Do Jackson Street and Dupont run
in a circle or a line, what is the fruit
your mother ate before she bore you,
how many letters a year
do you receive from your father?
Of which material is your ancestral hall
now built? How many water buffalo
does your uncle own?
Do you love him? Do you hate her?
What kind of bird sang
at your parents’ wedding? What are the birth dates
for each of your cousins: did your brother die
from starvation, work, or murder?
Do you know the price of tea here?
Have you ever touched a stranger’s face
as he slept? Did it snow the year
you first wintered in our desert?
How much weight is
a bucket and a hammer? Which store
is opposite your grandmother’s?
Did you sleep with that man
for money? Did you sleep with that man
for love? Name the color and number
of all your mother’s dresses. Now
your village’s rivers.
What diseases of the heart
do you carry? What country do you see
when you think of your children?
Does your sister ever write?
In which direction does her front door face?
How many steps did you take
when you finally left her?
How far did you walk
before you looked back?

Copyright © 2020 by Paisley Rekdal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
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“This poem is from a book-length work I’m finishing on the transcontinental railroad titled West, a poetic ‘translation’ of a poem carved by an anonymous Chinese immigrant into the walls of the Angel Island Detention Center during the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Act was passed thirteen years after the transcontinental’s completion, and each of the carved poem’s characters (or pair of characters) opens up into a cultural history of the workers who built the transcontinental, or into a history of the cultural impact the railroad had on the U.S. as a whole. During the building of the railroad, Chinese men were eagerly recruited by the Central Pacific Railroad; afterwards, the Chinese were portrayed as criminals, drug addicts, and a national danger to white labor.”
—Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal is the author of six volumes of poetry, most recently Nightingale (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). An inaugural Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, she is the Poet Laureate of Utah and lives in Salt Lake City.

Nightingale
(Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

“I-797-C” by Jan-Henry Gray
read more
“A Simple Trajectory” by May Yang
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Thanks to Monica Youn, author of Blackacre (Graywolf Press, 2016), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read an extended Q&A about Youn’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year.
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