Can you see how the river shimmers? Connecting states I pledge allegiance to The farm to market roads Connecting rivaling towns In the fields we watch boys Become tools for their father's Lost dreams Until it's sunset and you forget That the Brazos and Colorado rivers Meet in mid-land Texas Collapsing before the hills that give way to mountains I pledge allegiance to Dying brake pads And just enough money for gas The open road and giant oak trees where Water tanks are adorned with A singular mascot, bulldog or cardinal I pledge allegiance to The Chipotle in Ennis across the street from Lake houses and boat shops. The girl behind the counter who is saving for college Eyes glowing when you tell her you're from Houston The big city I pledge allegiance to blacked-out freeways No big city lights so the stars begin to peek Out of their vinyl blanket Just enough to count the outer edges of Scorpius and Big Bear The ones your mystic grandmother taught you how to recognize I pledge allegiance to the changing seasons That give my stars new groups Little Bear and Leo until Spring and Summer give way To Orion's Fall Gaia sending a scorpion to challenge Artemis's friend He falls to the water when he cannot pierce its armor His silhouette floats in the night a reminder I pledge allegiance to the beauty of this green desert. Reminding me That the Comanche followed Llano Estacado until they reached This land, our land and to hear the river when he says "I pledge allegiance to this plane, this land that cradles the hope Of a better future."
What is the significance of this work to you?
My love and pride for Texas and more specifically Houston is very clear in my work. My parents moved us here in the early 2000s and our weird bi-racial mix wasn't an issue here. There is such a diverse community of Arab-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, Africans, Asian-Americans, and subsets of those ethnicities that surrounded my everyday life. I wanted to express my love for this space where I reside and how beautiful the landscape is, the people are, the voices that have come from this space are. This piece is very much my pledge of love to Texas. As a lover of history, I write about local history, the good, the bad, and the weird that has plagued us for so long. I want to recognize the bad but also this newer history of reclamation by BIPOC. We are living on stolen land but it has become a home to marginalized people, refugees across the world. Our communities meet here and I wanted to use this poem as a place to recognize that.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
This form came out of a prompt. I've read other pledge poems and I wanted to mess with it a bit. Living in a small town like Sugar Land provides me with this look into this small-town southern culture that dominated my high school experience. I used this form as a way to mimic how I (and my community) grew from these beginnings to where I am now. From "tools for our father's lost dreams" to this more mystical universal look of Texas and its history. The bits about Orion's struggle and place in the stars to the discovery of this space, the end of the poem illuminating the beginning of the settlement of this place that I love.
What was your process for creating this work?
This poem came off of a prompt, as I said earlier, in a workshop led by Aris Kian Brown and Miranda Ramirez here in Houston, the "Badass Bitches Workshop" for women and genderqueer individuals. This poem is very much a product of this workshop space and the inspirations of the people in this space. I wrote the first draft there and really liked where it was going, but wasn't content with it. The flow was there, but the ending wasn't quite right. When I get like this I go into a research hole and bury myself in history books and essays to find my way through the writing block. I stumbled upon this idea of Texas as a cradle for hope in an essay about Native American History in South Texas. This line and idea was the missing link that brought the poem back to its core. (I'm not sure if that was a great literary description of how the craft works but this is my process).
Tamara Al-Qaisi-Coleman is a bi-racial Muslim writer, poet, and artist. She holds a dual Bachelors in Creative Writing and Middle Eastern History. She is a 2021 Desert Nights: Rising Stars Writers Conference Fellow through the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. She is a 2021 Brooklyn Poets Fellow and was a poet for the Museum of Fine Arts and Houston Grand Opera’s event “The Art of Intimacy.” Her fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and translation publications can be found in (Fiction) Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Scintilla Magazine, Paper Trains Journal, The Bayou Review: The Women's Issue. (Essays, interviews, and translations) Glass Mountain, Volume 21. (Poetry) The Houston Review of Books, The Bitchin’ Kitch, Harpy Hybrid Review, Poetically Magazine. Her visual art can be found in Sonder Midwest Review, Wordpeace Magazine, and The Blue Minaret Review and others.
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