excerpts from Claim

Mónica Gomery lives in Boston, MA. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Goddard College, and the Drisha Institute Arts Fellowship. Her writing has appeared in Shearsman Magazine, Scythe, Shadowtrain, Word For/Word, and Bridges Journal. She co-founded and co-edited Never on Time Journal, a community poetry project in Philadelphia. Most recently she is studying ancient languages and learning how to pray, en route to rabbinical school.

These pages are excerpts from a larger project called Claim, a hybrid poetry/prose and text/image work that began as an oral history project tracking the author’s family’s migrations through Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. It became an exploration of memory and the language used to claim identity, history, and place. Much of the language is “found” or gleaned from these interviews. As a whole, the piece asks questions about nationalism, land ownership and intergenerational trauma.

excerpts from CLAIM

families       spread slow       spilled water        cross, leak, seep       terrains

                                                                                                  Dear Nation,                                          Bread your Sunday morning, your pioneer beginning.
                                                                                                     Will not be.

                                                                                                  Dear Nation,

                                                                       What is claim, what is anchor?

                                                                                       What myth stitches
                                                                                            history to place?

                                                                                                   What stitch
                                                                                                 myths people
                                                                                                      to nation?

                                                                                         Where is the road?
                                                                                      What are the names?

                                                                                                          What is
                                                                                                  the land like?

                                                                                   What anchor, what root?

                                                                                                         What un-
                                                                                                    peopled soil?

                                                                                             Where is the road?

Parched mouth of memory.

Loosen wrought letters,
Pull up soft plots.

Pull up soft plots.
A shovel, no lantern.

                                                                                          What anchor, what

Someone extends a hand.


What root?

their trans-Atlantic journey

mother (theirs) taught her daughters (mother, mine) the Latin alphabet

            mothered the Latin alphabet
            alphabet becomes new home

Romanian, German, and Hebrew they had already stitched

            roofs of their mouths
            spoken becomes roof

my grandmother traced the letters:
round vowel bellies      rock of tide
sharp-ended   consonants   ship’s mast

letters become a boat, take from and towards

            going to

mother (mine) envisioned grandeur of New York,
golden plains of Texas, California sun

imagined speaking English all glamour (hers) grandeur (nation)
hard, blocky, words like the movies

mother (theirs) revealed America approaching (theirs) was South America

language was Spanish

            long rock of tide, of seasick nights

                                                                                              Dear Immigrant,
                                                         Try on the tongues. You’ll find no war here.


Tumble of language, a word un-tongued.

Pride reaches,        lingers,        dangles




I dream.

Sit on the sand bed and watch

the bottom of that freighter cut blue

pull, touch its hydraulic rudder.

Salt of story on sea-lips, its many passengers.

Outside the dream, up above

the brackish water

I wince at recognition.

What roots run between body continents, seabeds?

Hesitate to name, be named. I is fiddled,

fidgeted, wants Atlantic anonymity, an us

of swept breath. No-name drifts between

them and I, between I

and brine and algae.


Rachel grew up in West Texas, where parched land scrolls out endlessly, everything a shade of distance. She tells me over many years of friendship.

Four generations knuckle-bound to land that grabbed and held. An old rancher once told her: “Out here it’s impossible to be lonely. The land walking beside you is your oldest friend, like already you’ve told the best stories and each of you knows how much the other made up.” A yawning sky, a hotfoot sun, horizon line a crease beyond. These are her drawling plains, cowboy bodies desert stiff.

Rachel’s mother has lived through three fires. Charred remains of memory across brittle blackened land.

Her mother, reaching tongue of an agave plant, rising slow from a crack in the dust. Her mother, blooming into woman, walking the desert earth, curving where the dunes flatten, skin spackled macula.

And the fire. Photographs disintegrating into tumbling ash, memories liquefied to plaster and molasses. Bare feet scorched by flame, flames licking the walls of the house, each glowing ember a year of her life.

Anchor to ground. What root?

Things fall away. Tongues of red blaze. Tin pot enveloped in soot. Nightgown hem smolder-curled.


                                                                                              Dear Immigrant,
                                                                             Claim ownership to overlay.
                                                                                      Lay heaviest of roots
                                                                        of skin and ground and steady
                                                                             of knuckle-bound beginning.

                                               POSTCARD I.

Sambath, born in a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border, says “Searching desperately for ancestry is a common trait of white Americans. Your identity is built on the backs of others, your land, your stories, even your memories are stolen.”


How do you write yourself out of a myth?

Words are permeable, punctures in the sieve.


                                               POSTCARD III.

Camilo, born of a Cuban woman and a Brooklyn Jew, says “Being Jewish is almost a synonym for cultural hybrid or nomad: so many of us have more than one cultural identity, and have been waging cultural, political battles within our families for a clearer definition of our legacy as a people.”


       Something will stand here,
       rafters, pretext, bedrock

       they say we speak in finger-flight
       dextrous gestures, roaming motions

                                 “An architect builds structures of their hands,” she observes

       calculated dialect, born angles, apex, slant
       hands to serve as bricks and beams

                                            “Your mother, my sister, they do the same thing.”

       make roof, knit flat-palm, interstice
       make burgeoning geometry
       gable tented two hand fold

                                                                                              Dear Immigrant,
                                                                                      Lay heaviest of roots
                                                                        of skin and ground and steady
                                                                             of knuckle-bound beginning.

                                                               Claim land claim home claim country
                                                                              claim natural claim tongue

                                                                                                        take hold

                                                                                                        and build.


I have never been from any one place she says, When I was learning Hebrew, we spoke Rumanian at home. When I was learning Spanish, we spoke Hebrew at home. When I was learning English, we spoke Spanish at home. It’s like I could never catch up fast enough.

Threads of language unravel before my mother, her busy fingers try to braid them. Wind-blown, untamed threads.

undone        un-there    a bag of dried beans

un-peopled                or grains of rice

glassy marbles    un-tongued

tip over and spill out