Divya Victor’s poetry collection Curb digs into the layers of community in United States suburbia, with a direct intensity that documents pervasive assaults against immigrants who settle here. She opens with a personal admission of her own mother being afraid all the time, of all places being the same in their lack of safety. We can all infer, from news stories of murders flooding in every day, that many parents are terrified every time their children leave the house because of the dark possibilities of violence that may befall them, darker scenarios the darker the skin.
Victor details even the more seemingly innocuous parts of suburban life, living conveniently close to services and superficially friendly neighbors. She describes attending white gatherings and not having her name pronounced correctly; there is an othering underlying every slip of the tongue.
On a street likely no different than the well-meaning block party, she relays one wounding account out of the countless. This is a Madison, Alabama street, a dangerously southern setting for a story of a black man walking in his son’s neighborhood. He was thrown to the ground and paralyzed by a police officer, who was reinstated afterwards. Personally, I shiver to live in Alabama, probably no more than an hour from where this beating happened six years ago. I know I am walking streets where bodily harm lingers from the very recent past, and still continues.
We hear these stories every day, if we are listening, and Victor presents them straightforwardly, with no room for misinterpretation. There is another account of a white supremacist bragging about shooting an immigrant. Another, another. It is not even safe to plant flowers on your own property, to stroll, to shop, to exist. Certain people cannot wait for a train without having to fear being pushed in front of it. Certain people are targeted both objectively, based on the visible color of their skin, and subjectively, based on their perceived status of legality or religion. Victor memorializes each loss, and grief sings through the pages.
These lyrical poems define bootlicking and agency, the danger of drawing more lines of grey between black and brown. Many are familiar with recognizing racism, but Victor takes us a step further, steps off this curb into colorism that invades the school halls of young children. She writes about teenage bullies:
Some people who look similar to us can feel so much like strangers. On the other hand, some strangers can feel like family, kith, with their unspoken understanding. Still others are so nosy, constantly questioning, oblivious to or uncaring of their insensitivity when asking deeply personal questions about where someone has come from, where they have been, why they have come.
We have a long, complex immigration petition process in this country. Those who are able to pass come to this country hopeful for better futures, and often what greets them is hatred, violence and death. They seek a new beginning but only find an ending. It is children with bricks and taunts, car loads of adults with guns and fists and screaming prejudices. It is undeserved loss, unpunished at every turn, on every street, every curb. There is nowhere safe to step that could not crumble in an instant, and somehow, even so, the United States is considered a free and worthwhile ground.
Victor ends her verse with her own explanation of placing coordinates at the dog-ears of the pages, marking the presence of immigrants, leaving a trace. She explains the symbolism of the snail, carrying its home on its back. Crossing over a vast ocean, leaving so much behind, can be a risk beyond white comprehension. We have built so many walls, streets, twists and turns between us, the boundaries seem near limitless, despite the fact that the lines are invisble, mentally drawn ourselves.
Keep up with Victor’s work on her website www.divyavictor.com and on Twitter @sugaronthegash.
Bethany Mary has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.