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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 4, December 2018
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Lew Watts
Chicago, Illinois, USA


Hiraeth

I was born fifty-six years ago in Cardiff, Wales, in the slum district of Splott. On days when I wasn’t getting the shit kicked out of me, I would never have imagined being in Washington, D.C., on this April day.

Everyone is nervous. Fathers check their watches, a mother readjusts her son’s necktie, and even the newborn swaddled in lace has a luster of sweat.

As the hour approaches, the doors open. “Form a line,” the guard says. “And remember, it’s alphabetical.”

free school lunch —
the hollow clang
of a soup ladle

An usher leads us into an oak-paneled room. We state our family name and country of birth before taking our seats, a final check that we’re in order. I count four men from Somalia. Their knuckles are white. We sit in silence. No one coughs.

Suddenly, a judge steps onto a podium flanked by two American flags. He is solemn, dignified, and he speaks of the history and importance of the ceremony. A woman in a hijab begins to shake.

We are asked to stand, right hand raised. The words of the Oath of Allegiance appear on a screen, and the room speaks in a low murmur. I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince …

Dad’s will
his old zippo
in the thumbprint

We are welcomed to the United States of America.

As we file out of the room, a woman in a large, purple headdress hugs me, and several men shake my hand. The same guard opens the main door, and we spill out into the light. Unknown friends appear with confetti. Gradually, the crowd begins to disperse.

gust of wind
out of the street gutters
cherry blossoms

I should feel joy and gratitude, but I can’t escape the sense of my betrayal of where I’m from. And that’s when it hits, the gut-punch ache of longing, for all that’s lost, for all that’s gone, and the bittersweet sound of a word I know will never stop.


Note: Hiraeth (Welsh): a deep yearning for a home, a place, or a time one can never return to, or perhaps that never was.

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