This week’s poem, an aching portrait of a woman’s struggles with identity, poverty and belonging, comes to us from the venerable Maine poet Wesley McNair. “The Immigrant” is an excerpt from his newest book, “Dwellers in the House of the Lord,” which is out this week from Godine. To celebrate its release in this time of social distancing, on Tuesday both Longfellow Books and Godine will post a link to a video of McNair reading from his new work.

Wesley McNair is the author of more than 20 books, including the recent poetry collections “The Unfastening” and “The Lost Child: Ozark Poems,” winner of the 2015 PEN New England Award for Literary Excellence in Poetry. “Dwellers in the House of the Lord” is his 10th book of poetry. McNair served as Maine poet laureate from 2011 to 2016.

The Immigrant
By Wesley McNair

Being bad, my mother learned
from her own church-going mother
in the Ozarks, was not trying hard enough
to stop being who you were. Being yourself
was what you got slapped for. Yet
when she was seventeen, she, too,
longed to be herself. “I can’t wait
to get rid of this family’s name,”
my uncle, a boy then, heard her say
in the shack where she lived with her brothers
and sisters. Then she married, had a child,
and headed to New England. Sitting
on a battered suitcase and nursing
my older brother while my father
thumbed rides for the three of them
across the country to a job his cousin
had promised, my mother never guessed
that her longing had just begun.

Four years later, she was the mother
of three sons and living in the projects
of Springfield, Vermont, where my father,
moving on, had abandoned her —
she, an immigrant from her own country,
with an accent her Yankee neighbors,
poor like her, strained to understand.

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “The Immigrant” copyright 2020 by Wesley McNair, excerpted from “Dwellers in the House of the Lord,” (David R. Godine, publisher). Poem reprinted by permission of Wesley McNair and the publisher.

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