Nithya Vijayakumar | Graduate Student/Postdoc, Medical student, University of Michigan Medical School

Immigrant Palms
 
FROM THE AUTHOR:
I have always been grateful to my parents for their immigration story, and in awe of the sacrifice and struggle it must have entailed. To immigrate before the age of the internet, with limited resources and contacts, to a new country so vastly different from your own, is a challenge that so many immigrants have risen to. I’m sure they faced many challenges in their early days in the United States, some expected and many unforeseen. This poem is for my parents, and all of the immigrant parents who are bravely navigating multiple worlds, cultures, and languages. Thank you for your courage.


Immigrant palms
 
Your hands are calloused, large and padded at the front of each knuckle
With chains of brown lines running down.
Some would read resilience in your heart line
I read security, shadowed often by the creases on your palms as they clench into fists or fold together in a prayer.
My hands are softer, small but still wide
Cracked skin in the winter offers trails of red blood, my blood, our blood, under brown skin
blessed by your years of toil and school.
I used to hold our forearms together and say
“Dad, my skin is so much lighter”. You would open your palms to say
“Our palms are the same color”.
 
Long nights and air flights to home from work and from our home to your home
country,
Visiting parents, holding crinkled hands and sun-faded tattoos, their chained palms cupping your chin with toothless grins,
Holding children small brown and squirming away from your home
culture, hands pause to pray before the ancient.
From dirt roads to 7-layer industrially-engineered concrete, and back again.
From smog to clear air and chickens to minivans.
The transitions in a life of immigration are striking. I cannot imagine walking into a new airport by yourself at 27, carrying a suitcase and landing on sterile white floors, fluorescent lights, finding a cab and pulling out a map to an apartment you have never seen in a language you have sailed only in low waters.
 
Our palms are pink-tinged white
With chains of brown lines criss-crossing and clasping together.
Some would read resilience in these heart lines, some would read prayer.