first by Ibtisaam

first

\ˈfərst\

adjective

being before all others with respect to time, order, rank, importance, etc., used as the ordinal number of one

adverb

before all others or anything else in time, order, rank, etc.

before some other thing, event, etc.

noun

the person or thing that is first in time, order, rank, etc.

the beginning.

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First. They tell you to come here legally, with all your papers and your documents. Your parents tell you to carry those papers around with you everywhere you go – gas station bathrooms and your college dorm and the amusement park and
Last. They tell you you’re a citizen. It doesn’t matter that 20 years after the process started, you’re numb to that word and no piece of paper or notary’s signature will make you feel like a citizen now. It doesn’t matter that even with that piece of paper and that notary’s signature, you will still get the where are you froms and the what other languages do you speak and the you must be so warm in that.

First. They tell you to have a name that’s easy to pronounce – syllabic, even. It can be Arabic but not too Arabic. Something they can anglicize.
Last. They pronounce Adam [eh-dhum] as Adam [ahh-dumb] of you to think that might work.

First. Gen? Gentle!
Last. Surprise! You’re both. Gen because you were born there but raised here your parents were educated there but you complain about going to a PWI here you can’t fully speak that language but you hate this one, too / Gentle because you buy your mom bread on your drive home and send your friends Valentines’ Day chocolate after a breakup / but also gentle because you write poems to make these thoughts make sense and this love make sense and this country and that border make sense but this passport doesn’t make sense and neither does first-gen.

First. After years and years and years, you call yourself first.
Last. You tell yourself you’re not first. You’re not second, or third, either. You will always be Patient Zero, coming into this country with all your diseases and your too-spicy spices and your unskilled but somehow calloused hands and your hard-to-pronounce names.

Ibtisaam is a Kashmiri-American woman passionate about justice, poetry, and her indoor plants. In her free (and not-free) time, she talks liberation, borders, and family. She calls NYC, Virginia, Srinagar, and most every poem home.

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Next: Black Cake by María Alejandra Barrios

Previous: Mango Son Theen by Jasmine Sawers

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The epigram is from  Dictionary.com’s definitions of ‘first.’

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Art Monir Farmanfarmaian Jules Antonio CC2.0

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