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Ordinance on Arrival -- Naomi Lazard

Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani
(Poem #1312) Ordinance on Arrival
 Welcome to you
 who have managed to get here.
 It's been a terrible trip;
 you should be happy you have survived it.
 Statistics prove that not many do.
 You would like a bath, a hot meal,
 a good night's sleep. Some of you
 need medical attention.
 None of this is available.
 These things have always been
 in short supply; now
 they are impossible to obtain.

 This is not
 a temporary situation.
 Our condolences on your disappointment.
 It is not our responsibility
 everything you have heard about this place
 is false. It is not our fault
 you have been deceived,
 ruined your health getting here.
 For reasons beyond our control
 there is no vehicle out.
-- Naomi Lazard
I only recently found out that recent south asian immigrants into Toronto
are called "FOBs" or "Refs" by the first or second generation south asians
who live here.  FOBs means "Fresh off the boats" and Refs means "Refugees".
It does not matter if you came into Canada under the independent category of
skilled labour.  If you have the slightest trace of an Indian accent and,
particularly, if you're struggling as a new immigrant consider yourself a
FOB.

While I am angered by this for various reasons, I find that this poem by
Naomi Lazard which actually alludes specifically to the FOBs (be they from
Vietnam, India or wherever!) really does apply to so many recent immigrants,
the skilled workers - the ones that have not crossed borders and entered
into this country unlawfully (in boats) or pleaded sanctuary as refugees.

When I read this poem, I am reminded of scenes from Bombay, of long lines of
people with their hopeful faces before the US consulate in Breach Candy or
at the visiting Canadian Consulate at Nariman Point.  So many people, from
all over India, who left behind their country with a dream of making it big
in the west.  People who dreamed of having a bright future here for
themselves and their children.

I see these faces now, in Toronto.  It is always a humbling experience.
They drive me home in their cabs or fill gas in my car at full service gas
stations.  Some serve me meals at restaurants and some have cleaned my room
at the Convention Centre hotels where I am attending conferences.  They are
really no different from me.  Had it not been for the financial stability
and support I had from friends and family (on my own arrival into Canada) I
could just as easily have been one of them.   They see a fellow south asian
and we break into conversation.  It does not shock me anymore when they tell
me that they used to be  Civil Engineers, Professors, even Doctors 'back
home'.  These are the people who got lost in the conundrums of
accreditation and gaining "Canadian experience" and succumbed to finding
other ways to make a living.  They came here with only a few hundred dollars
and did not have the financial ability to go back to school and retrain.
It's most challenging when they arrive here with a family.  Accreditation is
a luxury they can ill afford when bills have to be paid and mouths have to
be fed.

And I wonder if they now feel betrayed.  I wonder if it they absolve the
Canadian Government for all the lovely brochures that it prints praising the
life in Canada, when all that they hear after their arrival into Canada is
exactly this:

Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false. It is not our fault
you have been deceived,
ruined your health getting here.

I know that for these people there is a vehicle out - they could go back to
their homes and professions.  But, every one of them has always given me the
same reason for staying here.  "Our kids will have a better future here and
they will have a better life here.  We're staying here for them".

A bit ironic then, isn't it, that these very kids will grow up and mock
people just like their parents by giving them derogatory terms of reference
like "FOBs" and "REFs"?

- Salima

Bio on Naomi Lazard

Naomi Lazard is more popular for her translations of poems by Faiz Ahmed
Faiz than she is for her own poetry.   Her own poems have appeared in the
American Poetry Review, the Nation, Haroers, the New Yorker. She is author
of several collections of poetry: The Moonlight Upper Deckerina (Sheepmeadow
Press, 1977); Cry of the Peacocks (Harcourt Brace, 1975 ) and Ordinances
(Ardis).

PS: I don't really know anything more about her - perhaps google would help
those who want to know more.

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

arun simha said...

Hi,

Incidentally, the term "FOB" as well as PIGS [Poor Indian Graduate
Students] is common across the North American continent. FOB, I believe,
was used primarily by the second generation East Asians.

PIGS was created as a reaction to the term "ABCD- American Born Confused
Desi" sometime in the early 1990's. It was a term usually used by second
generation Indian Americans to refer to new grad students of Indian
origin.

Other Asians also use insensitive terms like "Eggs & Bananas".
[broken link] http://www.asianwhite.org/egg.html &
[broken link] http://www.iistix.com/_stixandstones/blendfor1000years.html refer to
these terms. I don't know whether this is a predominantly Asian habit or
whether Europeans are susceptible to this trait as well.

Anyway, nice poem!

Arun

John Burstow said...

Hi Martin

Today's poem by Naomi Lazard is striking, but I cannot see how it
"specifically" refers to all the classes of immigrants that Salima
Virani lists in her comments. It is indeed hard to find on-line
biographical information on Naomi Lazard, but that poet, translator, and
American academic seems to have associated herself with the plight of
the permanently and violently dispossessed peoples of the
world--specifically Palestinians--and not with the uphill fight
immigrants of various economic backgrounds may have for full comfortable
citizenship in places like Toronto. Virani's comment that "I know that
for these people there is a vehicle out - they could go back to their
homes and professions" should alert us that Virani is NOT writing about
the same people whose situation Lazar is describing, people whom the
poem says have NO such vehicle. But I do not mean to suggest that the
little biographical background I could find in THE TRUE SUBJECT, (by
Ali, Agha Shahid, Grand Street, 07345496, Winter90, Vol. 9, Issue
2--through EbscoHost, for those with access) is the key to the chilling
Kafkaesque "Ordinance on Arrival." I do not have that key.

John Burstow
Winnipeg, Canada

Martin DeMello said...

--- John Burstow wrote:
> Hi Martin
>
> Today's poem by Naomi Lazard is striking, but I cannot see how it
> "specifically" refers to all the classes of immigrants that Salima
> Virani lists in her comments. It is indeed hard to find on-line
> biographical information on Naomi Lazard, but that poet, translator, and
> American academic seems to have associated herself with the plight of
> the permanently and violently dispossessed peoples of the
> world--specifically Palestinians--and not with the uphill fight
> immigrants of various economic backgrounds may have for full comfortable
> citizenship in places like Toronto.

I believe Salima's commentary hinged on the lines

This is not
a temporary situation.
Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false.

which seems to speak more to the violently disillusioned than to the violently
dispossessed.

> Virani's comment that "I know that
> for these people there is a vehicle out - they could go back to their
> homes and professions" should alert us that Virani is NOT writing about
> the same people whose situation Lazar is describing, people whom the
> poem says have NO such vehicle.

Actually, emigrants often burn their boats (and both ends of their candles) to
the extent that going back to their homes and professions becomes as much of an
uphill task as staying and trying to make the best of their new lives and
circumstances.

> But I do not mean to suggest that the
> little biographical background I could find in THE TRUE SUBJECT, (by
> Ali, Agha Shahid, Grand Street, 07345496, Winter90, Vol. 9, Issue
> 2--through EbscoHost, for those with access) is the key to the chilling
> Kafkaesque "Ordinance on Arrival." I do not have that key.

Kafkaesque sums it up nicely. I personally don't believe that Lazard intended
the poem to restrict itself to any one class of people; conversely, I think it
applies very well to the class of people Salima wrote about.

martin

Jerry Rao said...

As one who has chosen to live in India...I must say I have no sympathies
for Salima's views.....no one forced people to go.....why whine after
doing something voluntarily

I do like the deadpan audenesque quality of the poem though

Jerry

S. Bhattacharji said...

Dear Minstrels,

I do not know if comments on poems are in order, but I found this a
fascinating poem. I work in primary health care and a lot of my work is
with mother and child care especially during child birth. In developing
countries, mortality associated with childbirth for both mother and
child are still so high and for me this poem was as if addressed to the
newborn who finds the world into which she/he comes a hostile one. So it
was a surprise to read that this is about refugees, but I suppose for
many newborns in developing countries their arrival is as it is for the
refugees of this world.

Sara Bhattacharji.

Acynta said...

Hah hah. Well, when I was reading it, I thought it was about heaven/the
afterlife. But either the childbirth or refugee readings seem more
borne out (a pun! great!) by the text. Indeed, rereading it, it seems
very much in reference to the many illegal immigrants who come to the
United States (and Canada, and the UK), under almost unbelievably
inhumane conditions. It was only about a month ago that a tractor
trailer full of Mexican immigrants was abandoned by the side of the road
in Texas (?), with a staggering death toll due to
suffocation/dehydration. And of course the poem's title "Ordinance on
Arrival" is particularly cutting, as illegal immigrants are not part of
the established beaurocratic order, and are not greeted by any official
ordinances at all.

However, I like the poem's deliberate ambiguity, which makes the themes
of struggle, disillusionment, and irrevocability (is that a word?) human
themes, thereby humanizing the illegals whom it is so easy for us to
forget, and to excuse their suffering on the basis that "it is not our
responsibility/everything you have heard about this place is false."

Very "Hotel California", n'est-ce-pas? "You can check out any time you
like/but you can never leave."

carlynn

Ian Baillieu said...

A memorable poem, in tone and content reminiscent of some of
the work of the popular Australian poet, Bruce Dawe.

I think Martin hit the nail on the head in the last
paragraph of his comments. Nothing in this poem restricts
it to any one class of people. It’s a general template (I
guess that’s what Carlynn means by ‘deliberate ambiguity’)
for a Kafkaesque nightmare that could apply to arrival in
any unfamiliar place after an arduous transit or journey,
though it might fit the details of some situations better
than others. Besides those already mentioned (refugees,
immigrants, the newborn, and souls entering the afterlife),
it could apply, for example, to prisoners transported to a
concentration camp, or a would-be relief party entering a
besieged city, or tourists who have crossed dangerous
terrain to reach some remote place on their itinerary. I
don’t regard the word ‘Ordinance’ in the title as meaning
just some official regulation or even formal announcement.
To me it signifies a key element of the nightmare, namely,
that the dismaying circumstances conveyed by whoever is in
charge are presented as unalterable.

Ian

Anonymous said...

I guess the argument could be made that the beauty of poetry is finding and sympathizing with certain element of the poem. i can see where Salima is coming from, however this poem is rather generic and could be applied to multiple instances throughout history. It might be worthwhile to look at the authors biographical data in order to really understand where they are coming from. from what i could find Naomi Lazard has spent a lot of her life in New York which in my opinion screams Ellis Island. I also tend to think of troops first arriving on foreign soil possibly receiving a speech from a commander. This in part may be due to the title "Ordinance" as well as the poems authoritative tone. This is no doubt a coincidence between both title and tone.
-Charlie

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