What it’s like for a poet crossing the border
Nearly every time I’m crossing the border it feels like an ordeal: the anxiety, the agent staring deep into your soul, lines as long as the ones in a Walt Whitman poem. Are they going to find the oranges you stuffed down your pants? Do you even remember the name of the place you’re going? New Pork. I mean York. York!
When the guard asks you questions, it’s important to act natural. What is the average rainfall of the Amazon Basin? When did you start cheating on your taxes? Where were you the night of January 24? Spell your middle name. Backwards.
Being a poet, I’m bewildering to the inquisitor in the little booth.
“And what’s the purpose of your trip, sir?”
“A poetry reading.” I might as well add, “Of course I’ve brought bongos.” Once, upon learning my profession, a border guard pulled a sheaf of original poems out of her jacket and read them to me for 10 minutes. It was my challenge to think of sufficiently complimentary things to say so she’d let me into her country. “I love how you compare love to cheese sticks. So beautiful and so apt!” Those behind me, sweltering in their cars, must have assumed she was grilling me. Maybe it was all a sophisticated interrogation technique to make me admit I was really going shopping for discount shoes.