City

by Sagirah Shahid

The surnames
Slur up against the ocean.

On the shoreline
zipping into a whole

person. What is your
hometown? Have you forgotten

the plastic sea
shells in a glass jar?

Sagirah Shahid is 23-years-old and originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She recently graduated from St. Olaf College with a degree in English and minors in American Racial and Multicultural studies and African and African American Studies. She was a nominee for the AWP intro journal awards in 2012 for her poem “Dummy.” Her poems have been published in the Black Fox Literary Magazine, The Quarry, and The Reed. She has an upcoming publication in the North Central Review.

Compression Statement

    When I think of compression, I envision an elaborate and messy network of a mass shrunk down uncomfortably. Like a majestic genie, cosmic powers and all being stuffed into a beautifully crafted bottle; I image the act of compression comes with a paradoxical cost. In the poem “City” I strive to capture the moment of cultural assimilation, which is a form of identity compression.

    Perhaps the speaker of my poem is a decedent in conversation with his or her immigrant history for the first time. Perhaps the speaker of the poem is a fellow immigrant, urging the newcomer to hold on to the relics of the old country. It is the ambiguity of the poem and its directness to this act of retrieving the fractured bits of identity out of the assimilated culture that I think speaks to this notion of compression. My approach is to take a panorama shot of this mass assimilation and narrow it down to a single image. The catalyst of that image is a question that strives to provoke the fragmented identity to remember who they are, and where they come from.

    One of my ultimate goals in the poem was to convey the harsh and artificial toll this act of assimilation can have on the individual. I end the poem off, with the final image revealing the paradoxical trap the newcomer finds herself in. To live in a big city is to forget the small things from the old country, but it is also to become a bit of a cultural spectacle, trapped in a glass jar.

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