In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Sarah Kay is on the line.
I was a third-culture kid, which basically means that any attempt to describe my identity requires a silly amount of en dashes. I recently went through a difficult breakup that has made my lack of roots more apparent and intolerable. I know this is a big ask, but is there a poem that can help me build a home?
I am half Japanese American and half Jewish American, I grew up in New York City, and I attended an international school. I am very familiar with the phenomenon of being a third-culture kid, as well as a prisoner of the en dash. (For those less familiar, third-culture kids are children who grow up in a country or culture that is different from that of their parents. It is a common experience of expats or children raised abroad, and while the term attempts to cover a very disparate group of humans, I like that it gives a unifying language to children who grow up feeling different or lost or just a little bit outside.) These days I spend my time performing and teaching in schools around the world. I encounter TCK’s growing up in totally different countries and yet they all share similar experiences. They feel like a community to which I am connected. Because of this work, I also spend a lot of time in airports, those miserable transient places, and I spend most of my time far away from anywhere or anyone that feels like home. And oh! “Home!” That ephemeral and impossible ideal. Where is it? Who is it? How can we find it and reach for it when we need it? Today I give you Naomi Shihab Nye’s beautiful piece “Gate A-4.” In it, she speaks of an experience in an airport, when a woman needed her help. Together, they built a small community at the airport gate. For Naomi, we carry “home” around in our language, in our food, in the way we look into someone else’s eyes. She writes,
I noticed my new best friend–by now we were holding hands–had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
You don’t have a lack of roots, TCK. You just carry yours with you. And even if it feels like you don’t come from one single place or that you do not belong to a “home” that you can point to on a map, all those en dashes you carry help you form new homes everywhere you go. As Naomi says: “Not everything is lost.”