Honorable Mention Poetry: "Alien Authorized to Work"

by Andrei Guruianu

Legal for one more year, my father’s voice
like an excited child on the phone
tells me his papers have come,
the papers, the papers,
all I ever heard growing up
with the weight of expectations,
playing the good immigrant son,
learning to anticipate
those envelopes from the government
more than the arrival of Christmas morning.
The papers came today, my father said,
and it means he’s legal for one more year,
made real by a document,
not by the worth of his mind,
the sweat on his gray, receding brow,
a broken body defined by two words —
legal, alien — the internal rhyme
of a working immigrant man.
And because his taxes are good enough,
his muscle and blood is good enough,
he’s allowed to work to pay
for the name that scars like a firebrand,
the number and the letter A engrained
in the skin that cannot be washed clean
and printed under laminated shifting holograms
that for a price renews the burden every year,
should he ever dare forget
that indeed he comes from somewhere else.

As a young immigrant to this country I noticed how much my parents struggled for recognition and legitimacy in American society. Besides the hard work and the sacrifices, one of the things that I was never allowed to forget was how important it was to maintain a work authorization card and finally to get a Green Card, the two things that would allow our family to be a functioning part of society.

—Andrei Guruianu