american migrant

“American Migrant”, “Inside the Wall” and “Soccer Revolution”

by Alf Abuhajleh

American Migrant

“You came here and took the jobs our fathers built for us.”

We exploit our talents in the fertile fields, in the

shadows of portable toilets, in asparagus rows retching,

wrapping ripped rags around numb fingers for

a nightshift at the Blue Smoke Slaughterhouse.


“You came here and took the money our mothers earned for us.”

We save what we can—for the future

we promise each other, as our broken bodies

forge temporary shelters against doubt

and disappointment—and send the rest back

to the remaining.


“You came here and took the power our politicians wielded for us.”

We march for dignity, for Corky and Chavez. We stand

in solidarity, in the rain. Like those before us, like Tammany,

we learnt to organize, to assemble, to smile

through the beatings with grace.


“You came here and took the way of life our priests designed for us.”

We huddle in the kickoff din after mass with Merriam-Webster

on the kitchen table. Every Sunday a new word: Grateful. Gritty. Ravenous.

The movement always forward, upward tilting, pulled toward

our own divine crapshoot.


“Why did you come here and take the dreams our gods shaped for us?”

What else can we feed our children?

Inside the Wall

Sometimes I like to hide inside a wall

where people can’t see me

watching them walking home

to their cold-water tenement apartments

below some old street, maybe Henry,

on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.


Alone in the dirty afternoon light

I play with both lares and penates,

drowning in the caryatid’s stained chiton.

For a while I feel safe here.


Like sleeping on an airplane fixed in mid-flight,

nothing unplanned occurs notwithstanding

wake turbulence and emergency landings.


Or singing off-key on a tide-flattened beach

long before the sun arrives with her dog-loving

companions in tow.


Poised inside my anechoic dream chamber

the final demands are snuffed out.

Time stops and I am free.


The big idleness is no cause for concern.

No one here is waiting for me, evoking

dependencies, requesting solace.


It’s just me.

Soccer Revolution

The fortune of our neighborhood soccer team,

on the east side of a Swedish harbor city,

was often connected to the latest coup d’état,

civil war or state-sponsored massacre.


Take Argentina’s Operation Condor in the late 1970s.

More than 30,000 souls vanished but the survivors

brought tango to our frigid pitch where the rules say

run first, pass second and never ever dribble.


How we marveled at figures faking cunitas—seducing

with swaying hips in sky blue Adidas—a tentative

cruce adelante before whirling away in media luna.

What speed! What control!


In support, Nicaragua’s ousted bourgeois

marshalled the midfield with footwork

honed at leisure in marbled academies.

What games! What summers!


But with assimilation comes resettlement

to more affluent areas and better paying jobs.

They packed up their feudal cockiness

and left us with new arrivals from Iran.


“We don’t play soccer. We swim.”

What? Who swims?

This is worse than the kid from Iceland

who couldn’t play ice hockey.


But at home on silk draped leather sofas

unfit for public housing their beautiful mothers

cried as violent protests shook the evening news.

“Those used to be our limousines.”


We didn’t fare much better when a third coup

chased free-thinkers and fascists from Turkey.

Bulent Eren never heard his name pronounced correctly.

Not even when they pulled him out of class

to say his dad was dead: Hanged himself from a ladder

while the police arrested his drug-trafficking associates.

He left a note, saying he was happy

to avoid the prison torture.


Soon the tragic ghost of Atlacatl turned the tide,

siccing his death squad on a young biology professor,

whose oscillating anger

scared rebels and oligarchs alike.


“Outside San Salvador,” she stares at the glass

of cheap Spanish wine her new friends bought

in clever solidarity, “the government sometimes

kills eight, nine, ten people a day.”


When the memories of El Mozote reached a crescendo,

her two sons would go running in the endless summer

night light. They run and run and run until one day

she pulls them out of a game, “We’re going home.”


There were others, for sure: Poles and Singhalese.

Peruvians and white Africans from Zimbabwe.

A Bangladeshi left-winger who kept scoring

headers with a turban.


But it’s too late. The magic’s gone.

Our boyish devotion to a simple game

now replaced with mundane dread,

disconnecting us from the world we once knew.

About the Author

Alf Abuhajleh

Alf Abuhajleh is originally from Sweden, and now lives in Lake Tahoe, California. His three poems tackle problematic beginnings that never seem to end - for better or worse. This is Alf's literary debut.