The video went viral in a day,
the Kentucky woman standing in
line at a JCPenney, an arm on the counter
like she’s leaning against a bar
waiting for some guy to buy her a drink,
won’t allow two Hispanic women
to leave without saying, Go back
to wherever the fuck you come from...
You’re nobody as far as I’m concerned!
Then the classic Speak English,
you’re in America! She turns to those
behind her as if expecting high
fives and fist pumps with You tell ’em
lady, a sudden chant of U-S-A!
U-S-A! A year ago I’d just assume
she was a first-thing-in-the-morning
drinker, at it for hours. I’d figure
that her husband lost his job, or it’s cancer,
or she never finished eighth grade.
An isolated case, as they say, nothing
sinister. In the kitchen at a party,
a close friend of mine shrugs when I bring up
the incident, has only three words
for me, Same old shit. She walks off
to look around for baby Jesus, the nativity
set by the fireplace a crime scene.
I shout, Gives new meaning to second
coming if the dog ate him. She laughs
but not her usual split-the-ceiling
sort of laugh. I think of her story whenever
we get together, how twice she’s had
to sneak across the border, the first
time pregnant with her son, squeezed in
the back of a freight truck. I see her
sitting on the couch holding my three-
year-old daughter in her lap, rocking,
humming songs into her light-brown hair.
I tell myself this is goodness. I tell
myself I’d do anything for this woman
and her family. And yet I can’t say
I’d have the guts to be a Gies or Kugler
with an attic, tool shed, my mother-
in-law’s basement. I can’t say I would’ve
acted any different than the shoppers
in the video, swapping grins like it’s nothing
they haven’t heard before. On a stool
at the counter I pick bits of radish and carne
asada from a plate, thinking of a girl
in Schindler’s List, not the one in red
wandering a ghetto, not the one beaten by
Amon Goeth, but the Pole throwing
mud at a crowd filing past along a road
in Kraków, her scream Goodbye Jews! Goodbye
Jews! Goodbye Jews!, a glint of pride
in her eyes as if she herself wills this departure,
and knows exactly where they’re going.
BRANDON LEWIS was born in Seattle, Washington, and lives with his wife and children just north of Centralia, where he teaches high school English. In 2018 he received his MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. His poems have appeared in Superstition Review, Nashville Review, Naugatuck River Review, and The Tusculum Review.