Fine Print

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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The great state of Arizona, by changing the gun law (we don’t even have to have a special permit to carry a concealed weapon) earlier this year, embraced the Second Amendment.  However, with its recent immigration bill, the state is trashing our freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, which is also guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.  I’m furious. I’ve lived in Arizona all my life and now I’m thinking about moving.   Is there a poem out there that will help me reconcile this ugly hypocrisy?  What would a poet do in this situation?

— Love, Mom

I don’t know, Mom. When poets perceive an injustice, they might attend rallies, write letters to the editor, or donate what they can to an entity committed to ending a policy. They’d probably write poems (or columns) and channel their frustration into something constructive.

What has helped me reconcile the sad truth behind Arizona’s immigration bill — the fact that we should be striving to ignore differences in skin color or language yet this bill stresses them — is my inherent faith in people. Some might say that’s incredibly naïve of me, but just because a police officer is technically allowed to demand identification from a brown-skinned man walking down the street and minding his business, that doesn’t mean he or she will do it. Police officers are good people, really good people who just want to do their job and feed their families. And state budgets — especially Arizona’s, from what I understand — are under enough strain as it is. Police forces are under-funded and under-staffed, and hopefully most officers won’t even have the time to add discrimination, harassment, and violation of the Fourth Amendment to their normal policing activities.

Your query hits home though, because as you know I spend every Christmas in Arizona and my husband’s dark skin has inspired much suspicion among the authorities there. We have spent hours, literally hours, at Border Patrol check points with officers suspiciously researching his documents and background, and I can’t even imagine what this new bill will do. Emily Dickinson writes this poem:

A Man may make a Remark—

In itself—a quiet thing

That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark

In dormant nature—lain—

Let us deport—with skill—

Let us discourse—with care—

Powder exists in Charcoal—

Before it exists in Fire.

It’s no coincidence that “deport” simultaneously means to conduct oneself in a particular manner and to forcibly repatriate someone. Though she’s accused of not taking an interest in politics, Dickinson may have been commenting on the political atmosphere in the mid-19 century when Irish immigrants clamored for a new life in America. History is repeating itself today, so we should pay special attention to Dickinson’s words. We need to be careful right now of our words and actions regarding the issue of immigration. Arizona was too rash and impulsive, but thank goodness some of its citizens, like you, are thoughtful. Keep writing things, like this query, to expose the ugliness of this bill. And don’t move — Arizona needs you. • 13 May 2010

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.

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