When we first arrived by Gabriela Halas

Poem title: When we first arrived, 1983 Poet name: Gabriela Halas Poem: America opened— Prairies unfolded in ever-arriving distance. Air untarnished, fresh. Our eyes followed waves of power lines, their undulating surge of promise. Impenetrable words crowded the air like dense boreal. We needed to split the tongue, slit like seismic lines; corridors of language connected, fragmented. Government placement in small-town Alberta. Ameri-ka, Kanada— an immigrant knows how to replace one for the other. Old words ruptured— new ones formed like plaster around our mouths. We drove north where my father, with his six-month-old English, found work in oil-rich mines. Bowls of earth carved like a god’s terraced garden. Drunken spruce sank in sedated chaos like our immigrant thoughts— where nothing is as it appears. I remember taking my thumb and forefinger, traversing an atlas; stretched to shape our tiny country resting along the buckled spine of the Rockies, hardly filling an eighth of this new place. Nearly treeless lawns, in awe— the gentle slow arc of water, watering. Every house had a spare room or three. Fenced front and back, our own private country’s small walls stood in perfect symmetry. Our father spent twenty years in shift-work at the machine shop; an informal United Nations. Our mother, a lifetime cashier, her daughters the first to go to school. Nearly forty years later, the newly arrived, as we once were, find fences, straight, are not flush; weighted like walls. They are meant to be climbed. Threats shouted in America, Canada— twists of the tongue. Words crowd the air like rush-hour traffic. We are all born somewhere we do not end up. End of poem. Credits and bio: Copyright © Gabriela Halas Previously published in Tint Journal, (Spring 2021). Gabriela immigrated to Canada during the early 1980s, grew up in northern Alberta, lived in Alaska for seven years, and currently resides in B.C. She has published poetry in a variety of literary journals including The Temz Review, Cider Press Review, Inlandia, About Place Journal, Prairie Fire, december magazine, Rock & Sling, Tint, The Hopper, among others; fiction in Ruminate, The Hopper, subTerrain, Broken Pencil, and en bloc magazine; nonfiction in The Whitefish Review, Grain, Pilgrimage, High Country News, and forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review. She has received annual Best of the Net nominations in poetry (2020-2022). She lives and writes on Ktunaxa Nation land and is currently completing an MFA at UBC (Vancouver, Canada). www.gabrielahalas.org.