Thursday, July 6, 2017



If We Were Birds by Janine Harrison
(Moria Books’ Locofo Chaps, Chicago, 2017)

            Although not as long as Homer’s The Odyssey, or even Beowulf, Janine Harrison’s If We Were Birds manages to capture the zeitgeist of a forgotten generation in a way that her classic or medieval counterparts could not. Unlike most of the chapbooks reviewed before, this volume is made up of one long, narrative poem. It is divided by Roman numerals into five sections. Five poignant sections, each with the sound and the fury of one of nature’s hammer blows that bring along the collapse of the idea of immigrants as violent, uncultured, unworthy, sub-human creatures with each strike.

            They’re not murderers. They’re not rapists. They’re not bringing drugs or crime or disease, as our demagogue likes to claim. They’re human beings. They’re our doctors (“Denisse Rojas explained, / ‘Without DACA or / a long-term remedy, / I will not be able to practice / as a doctor.’”). They’re our teachers (A U.S. history teacher explained, / ’DACA allows me to / give back to my community. / I teach in the same neighborhood / I grew up in.’”). And yes, speaking as someone buried in graduate school and academia, I know they’re my classmates and contemporaries (“Aseal Reyes / dropped out of high school / feeling he had ‘no future.’ / With DACA / he is a 4.0 double major.”).

            This book also gives a nod to those who were repressed and used in an exploitative manner before, when in IV, Harrison mentions “Like the Italians, the Irish, the Chinese, / all the unwanteds before us / still we came. / Now we are the largest / minority population. / Did the USA fall apart / when the Chinese Ban was lifted?” This statement blows the ideas of reverse racism out of the water. If I hear “The Irish had it bad” one more time, especially in concert with “Well, we didn’t know any better!” I think I’ll scream. Thanks to voices like Harrison’s, it appears that the last thing that I will have to worry about is screaming alone. The more voices we have shouting into the void, the better.

            That’s not to say that this volume is solely a recitation of statistics, or of personal narratives. Much in the traditions of the epic poems of the past, Harrison touches on the mystical, to which she dedicates the entire passage V: “Native Americans believe / the Eagle is Master…if we were birds / we would rise and fly again / accept no leftovers no longer / we would have broad wings / be fast, agile, and string / be Golden eagles ascending. / We all exist as Eagles in America.” Migrant narratives tell us that like with most of the human race, the DACAers posses all of these qualities, plus some that make them unique in the human experience.

            The last thing they need, and which should come sooner than later, is freedom.


From works for children to the macabre, from academic research to sports journalism, and from opinion essays to the erotic, M. Earl Smith is a writer that seeks to stretch the boundaries of genre and style. A native of Southeast Tennessee, M. Earl moved to Ohio at nineteen and, with success, reinvented himself as a writer after parting ways with his wife of eleven years. After graduating from Chatfield College (with highest honors) in 2015, M. Earl became the first student from Chatfield to matriculate at an Ivy League institution when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The proud father of two wonderful children (Nicholas and Leah), M. Earl studies creative writing and history at UPenn. When he’s not studying, M. Earl splits time between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga, with road trips to New York City, Wichita, Kansas, and Northampton, Massachusetts in between.

1 comment:

  1. Another view is offered by Steve Klepetar in the April issue of GR at