En Route to Bangladesh, Another Crisis of Faith

BY TARFIA FAIZULLAH

—at Dubai International Airport and ending with a line by César Vallejo

Because I must walk

            through the eye-shaped

shadows cast by these

            curved gold leaves thick

atop each constructed

            palm tree, past displays

of silk scarves, lit

            silhouettes of blue-bottled

perfume—because

            I grip, as though for the first

time, a paper bag

            of french fries from McDonald’s,

and lick, from each fingertip,

            the fat and salt as I stand alone

to the side of this moving

            walkway gliding me past dark-

eyed men who do not look

            away when I stare squarely

back—because standing

            in line to the restroom I want

only to pluck from her

            black sweater this one shimmering

blond hair clinging fast—

            because I must rest the Coke, cold

in my hand, beside this

            toilet seat warmed by her thighs,

her thighs, and hers.

            Here, at the narrow mouth

of this long, humid

            corridor leading to the plane,

I take my place among

            this damp, dark horde of men

and women who look like me—

            because I look like them—

because I am ashamed

            of their bodies that reek so

unabashedly of body—

            because I can—because I am

an American, a star

            of blood on the surface of muscle.


Upon first reading this poem (and without paying attention to the description), one might envision the setting as an American airport. The speaker’s mention of “shimmering blond hair,” “Coke,” and especially “a paper bag of french fries from McDonald’s” brings to mind ideas of large-scale capitalism of an “American” flavor. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the poem is set in Dubai International Airport. The material objects that would seem so innocuous, or perhaps expected, had they been found in America take on a very different meaning: suddenly, the poem appears to be about a culture which has adopted or perhaps transplanted symbols of the Western world in lieu of those of its own (Americanization). Even the “curved gold leaves thick / atop each constructed / palm tree” seem an aberration from the “truth” of that world: the natural (perhaps the cultural reality) is gilded to make itself more appealing, to fit in. I wonder if it felt like it had to for survival, or if it wanted to do so because that world seems somehow “better.”

The speaker’s attitude is even more jarring: she seemingly rejects herself while also rejecting her culture. She “must walk”; she “[stands] alone” even among a “damp, dark horde of men / and women who look like [her].” The poem reeks of the speaker’s self-loathing because of where she comes from and what she looks like. But this hatred is the product of societal education–the tendency to glorify the reigning power. That she is holding French fries and Coke not only symbolizes an internalized expectation to assimilate to Western culture, but also her seeming belief that that culture is indeed better (“because I am / an American”). She and the airport have both ascribed, to some extent. On one hand, the speaker appears to be criticizing those notions; but she is also attacking her people, with “their bodies that reek so / unabashedly of body.” The urge to assimilate or adopt outside practices based on power structures, along with detestation of the former culture, would seem to be trends apparent in transnational interactions. Again appears Appadurai’s observation that one nation’s past is another nation’s future.

Sarah 

2 thoughts on “”

  1. I think it’s really interesting that the poem ends with a line by César Vallejo. He was a writer and activist who was born in Peru and lived in France and Spain. The conscious and emphasized use of this line not only adds to the variety of cultural influences on this text, but could also be seen as the speaker finding it increasingly difficult or undesirable to use their own voice, and using the words of individuals from other cultures instead. This could tie into the themes of cultural assimilation and transnationalism.

    Vallejo was also a Communist, which in some ways is, or at least attempts to be, a transnational movement.

    Like

  2. I like how this poem also brings up the idea of the transnational/international/otherwise boundaries and space of an airport. A traveler could fly from Chicago to Dubai by way of another city in another country, but without technically “being” in the connecting country. Airports and their architecture seem tied to the country in which they are built, but the inner portions tend to feature blurrier details in terms of their offerings, let alone their nationality.
    Lindsay

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s