What it Means to be Landless

When I look out the window I can only see cloud
and the top of other people’s roofs. Gardens
are out of reach, even the smallest blade of grass.
In stormy weather rain dashes right past me
on the way to somwhere thirsty.
It means shade. It means the herbs and spices
I try to cultivate wilt under flourescent lighting
and air conditioning. It means safety. It means
clean hands. It means I taste old tin,
sodium benzoate, vacuum sealed meats
when the market is closed. I can have
whatever I want as long as it’s something on offer.
I can give you an address that in fifty years
will not even be memories of a lost childhood.
When I travel, I look for floodplains and unscalable
mountains, for the small scruffed kittens
scratching at litter and soil and fresh greens
we eat later not knowing where they came from.
It means I will be burned, not buried. It means I am
the son of no soil. It means I have no fear of
droughts and bandits, of hard work, and children
at play have earth brushed away from their knees
in case it makes them sick. It means enough,
and nothing and smiling, every morning as I rise,
the puzzled smile of the long sleep.

by Alvin Pang
from When the Barbarians Arrive (2012)


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