Iglesia De Cristo

Route thirty winds to the south of town;
there is only dirt where the mall once stood,
all three grocery stores have been boarded up.
Habitat houses, new and sturdy boxes,
contrast with the little house where I used to live:
windows sag, shutters have not been replaced.

I walk through the old neighborhood;
I don't know anyone there anymore.
There is no common speech or culture;
the only language is poverty—
spoken in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Rap.
All are welcome here but us.

We're the old Crackers, the hated ones;
the ones they call trash without a trace of shame.
Not many would extend a hand to folks like us,
only the newcomers deserve to be known.
Nobody understands why we are still here,
and nobody forgives that error.

I pass the houses where I used to play;
weeds grow through the concrete stoops,
roofs rot, some grow green with patches of moss.
The wooded fields where strawberries grew,
and crawdads made their mounded holes,
are neatly mowed, by order of the county.

The tree where my friend's big brother
cracked up his car and died is gone now;
and so is she, but I don't know where.
There's nothing familiar here for me anymore;
and not just here but everywhere else, besides.
The world that used to be isn't anywhere at all.

The neighborhood Methodist church still stands,
I know every pew and vaulted beam by heart;
I even know the back stairs behind the pulpit,
and the boiler room in the basement, but the fence
is high and keeps me out. Iglesia de Cristo, it says.
My past is surrounded by chain link and barbed wire.

A battered truck rattles toward me, going slow in the dusk.
An old man leans out the window and gives me a wave;
Get inside, he says, it ain't safe out here no more.
He's right, I know, but I hesitate as I climb in the passenger side.
For just a moment, we recognize one another;
father and daughter— heading home again.

by Amy Chai

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