The Second Generation

The Second Generation is a poem written by Nora Selmani

This poem was originally written for an assignment in my first year of university where we were given the topic of 'Generations'. After struggling to link the idea of generations to anything I was particularly passionate about, the idea of generations of immigrants came to me. As a second generation immigrant, myself, it is a deeply personal poem, touching upon anxieties I have of finding myself in a stalemate between two cultures. It was incredibly liberating and is one of my favourite poems I have ever written. 

You were born on the cusp of change.                                                          
Salt water hanging in the wind
beckoning those displaced.
You’re the generation of
babies bundled in cheap blankets,
homes left behind,
with people still inside,
disconnected phone lines,
and letters,
smuggled in from Germany.

The grenade in your grandparents’ back garden,
the shrapnel lodged in your uncle’s calf,
and the granite gravestone of his best friend,
who took it to the heart.

When you went back home
your father’s sisters told you of how
they’d bought a dress- red with
white polka dots- when they’d heard
of your birth and they’d cradled it
in their arms as if it was you.

You grew up with two tongues
fighting for dominance in your mouth,
the smooth dialect of one seeping
into the other, then,
the harsh consonants of this
lending themselves to your
uncertain speech
giving you away to anyone
who would listen.

You tried to be like everyone else
make your name more pronounceable,
yourself easier to digest
be not cultural but cultured
you smothered that flame
in the back of your throat,
the longing in your bones,
for that place that your parents
called back home.

But in the nights before those Mediterranean summers
your cowardice haunted you;
folk songs rattled between your teeth,
paprika dusted your fingers like your mother’s
and bridal gold dangled enticingly in your dreams
so you shed your shame,
uncoiled those restraints you’d tightened around yourself,  
and allowed your feet to circle your bedroom
moving faster and faster like that eagle
crossing borders for the first time.