One tool that Mary Pipher recommends using with refugees being resettled in America to help them heal, process, and express is “I am from” poems, an identity exercise. So what are you supposed to write? You write a poem that includes something about place, religion, and food that trace back to where/how you are “from.”
In her book, The Middle of Everywhere, Pipher records some poems from some of her refugee friends over the years… just one or two sentences from the poems of many different refugees with deep and wide stories of pain, of fear, of trial. Below is an excerpt from pgs. 194-195:
Senada had written, ‘I am from parents that always had pain inside them and from the big beautiful oceans that I flew above.’
Sara had written, ‘I am from Shiraz, the city of flowers, the city of poems. I am from teachers that beat children with thick sticks.’
Boa had written, ‘I am from a house made of leaves, and when it rained, water dropped into my bed.’
Pablo had written, ‘I am from people who work really hard to get minimum wage. I am from a family who is always missing the ones in Mexico.’
Vu had written, ‘I live in a world of peace, freedom, loneliness.’
Koa had written, ‘My heart is breaking. I’m going for a long walk to forget the past.’
Manuel had written, ‘I dream I have a ton of gold so I can help my family. And I help other people so no one would be homeless.’
Ivan had written, ‘The war begins when two or more politicians decide to get more land power and money. But they do not care about the people. The people suffer and do not want war.’
Khairi had written, ‘I am from the country of sadness and dying people because of too many wars. I am the one who got lost in this world and I do not know what my real nation is.’
Zohra had written, ‘I am from Afghanistan, in the heart of Asia, with high mountains that hold emeralds and rubies. I am from a country that has rushing rivers that wash the blood of people who lost their bodies.’
Lana had written, ‘I am from a country where the sun stopped shining, where the butterflies stopped flying and where mothers’ hearts started crying.’
Tavan had written, ‘I am from where the waterfalls drop like a bird I the sky. From a place where the land is green and beautiful all summer long and in the fall the leaves fall like diamonds from the sky.’
What would YOUR “I am from” poem say?
Pipher opens her book with her own (full version) “I am from” poem. Which having been written by an born-and-bred American is starkly different from the poems of refugees. From pg. 1:
‘I am from Avis and Frank, Agnes and Fred, Glessie May and Mark.
From the Ozark Mountains and the high plains of Eastern Colorado,
From mountain snowmelt and lazy southern creeks filled with water moccasins.
I am from oatmeal eaters, gizzard eaters, haggis and raccoon eaters.
I’m from craziness, darkness, sensuality, and humor.
From intense do-gooders struggling through ranch winters in the 1920s.
I’m from “If you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything” and “Pretty is as pretty does” and “Shit-mucklety brown” and “Damn it all to hell.”
I’m from no-dancing-or-drinking Methodists, but cards were okay except on Sunday, and from tent-meeting Holy Rollers,
From farmers, soldiers, bootleggers, and teachers.
I’m from Schwinn girl’s bike, 1950 Mercury two-door, and West Side Story.
I’m from coyotes, baby field mice, chlorinous swimming pools,
Milky Way and harvest moon over Nebraska cornfields.
I’m from muddy Platte and Republican,
From cottonwood and mulberry, tumbleweed and switchgrass
From Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, and Janis Joplin,
My own sweet dance unfolding against a cast of women in aprons and barefoot men in overalls.’