The Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy’s 2023 Poetry Contest

Third Place

By Shlagha Borah, University of Tennessee, Knoxville


My homies ask me to teach my American friends how to cuss in our tongue.
I say: profanity is only for myself.
My friend from LA says they can turn me into a brown Kylie Jenner.
I look at my skin and don’t see brown.
My professor insists I am.
I say, can you teach me how to pronounce this?
I always pick the wrong syllables to stress on.
I laugh before they laugh.
I stand for hours in the social security office.
I write Assamese in English.
My parents think in Assamese and translate every word into English.
They are worried they might fail their Visa interview.
I have not even been here long enough to qualify as an immigrant.
I have always been a daughter of place.
I cannot see Ma’s face for three minutes without freezing.
We are oceans apart.
Data is so expensive and it is only one thing.
I pay thirty dollars to draw my palms.
My aunt grinds jetuka every Bihu.
I think of the borpitha Ma fries on Uruka night.
I barf the American-Mexican burrito bowl.
I make my White roommate try paan & her mouth explodes.
I cook paratha and buy lassi for lunch.
I am running towards and away from my Indianness at the same time.
I go to Target and Walmart and Trader Joe’s and I practice small talk.
I eat everything bagels and cream cheese and croissants and pop tarts and cheez-its.and
frozen pizza for dinner and I forget
I didn’t pack Aaita’s bogori pickle.
I see cereal on both sides of the aisle.
I gape & gape & gape