[33] What’s at Stake, Khem Aryal

What’s at stake when you queue
Outside the embassy,
Along the reinforced concrete wall,
For an interview that you believe
Will have life and death consequences?

What’s at stake when you deposit
Your possessions, pass your body
Through the metal detector that makes your heartbeat
Go wild for no trivial reason, when you dash
Into the waiting room full of dreamers
Ready to sell themselves, as you are, for
Your share of happiness you believe lies elsewhere?

What’s at stake when you run your fingers
Over the blue folder, when you readjust
The paper sheets, when you sprint
To the restroom, when you remind yourself
That people are good, inherently good; they’ll treat you
Well, like they’d expect their neighbors to treat themselves
In the country of the free, they won’t
Discriminate against you; they are fair?

What’s at stake when you remind yourself
You’re the cream of your country, as they say,
The consuls know it, you remind yourself,
They are professionals, they will know you,
They won’t miss the opportunity to export
You to their country that they claim
Was built by people like you?

What’s at stake when you struggle to regulate
Your breath as you’re called by a consul,
A young lady with an unwavering smile;
When you call her “ma’am” and you shake
With anticipation, “What the hell!” you warn yourself,
What’s at stake when she tells you
You’re eligible for a visa, what’s at stake
When you thank her, “Thank you, ma’am; thank you, ma’am?”
What’s at stake when you brilliantly mimic her tongue,
Say you’re grateful, you’re tremendously grateful,
“Thank you, ma’am; thank you, ma’am?”

What’s at stake when you fly, say goodbye
To your sky from above the clouds, when you pass
Through immigration, you are overwhelmed,
“Thank you, sir; thank you, sir,”
When you enter the new world?

What’s at stake when you begin to buy cheap
Fabric made in Bangladesh, bananas imported from Ecuador,
Cheap oil, cars you’d pay ten-fold for in your country,
—that is, if you could ever dream of buying them—
Experience no shortage of water, electricity, oil
Basmati rice, Brylcreem, Prozac,
And then suddenly a gentleman of a higher order
Asks you, “Are you with me or with them?”

Am I with you or with my people?
You still murmur I love my country,
Everybody does; what a disgrace not to love your country
Or not to claim to love the land you’ve left behind,
No matter how relentlessly the gentleman of a higher order
Asks you in the new land
“Are you with me or with them?”

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