Michael L. Newell
I was, for over two decades, an expatriate teacher who lived in thirteen countries (on five different continents) outside the United States. I have been published in Lilliput Review, Bellowing Ark, Current, and Rattle. My most recent book, Traveling without Compass or Map, is from Bellowing Ark Press. I have recently retired to the coast of Oregon where I spend considerable time slowly walking past creek, river, and forest. My poems mostly try to find connections across time and space, and similarities in the midst of differences.
Miracle Taken For Granted
uploading files of information
to an imaginary site twelve thousand miles away
watching a sun being born
thousands of light years distant
talking casually to a friend
on the other side of the world
seeing the Andes from the air when only hours before
the only thing to be seen were the streets of Los Angeles
and the three year old forming full sentences
without formal instruction and in two languages
A Typical Moment
Uzbekistan, Spring 1998
A friend writes to inquire
what makes an expat's life
different from any other.
Try this example: I sit,
as I write this, in a cafe
in Tashkent run by a man from Istanbul
who works for a German pharmaceutical firm.
His cafe serves Italian and French dishes
to Americans and Brits who speak
little or no Russian or Uzbek.
His waitresses are Russians
who speak no English, his cooks
are multi-lingual Koreans, and his bartender,
a young Russian woman, serves
Irish whiskey to Australians haggling
over a business deal with Uzbeks and Tajiks.
The tape deck plays Elton John,
the Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, and the Beach Boys.
At any one time, at least four
languages are floating among
the eight tables and the bar.
An hour before closing, a Turkish bellydancer, accompanied
by Arabic music, weaves through the cafe. When she
finishes, a tall, lean, elegant, bearded Russian
pianist plays rock and roll standards with jazzy riffs.
I down a Benedictine and leave
to find leaves rustled by a light spring rain.
-First published in Collision Course (Four Sep Publications — 1999)
Cairo, Egypt, 2001-2002
I have lived so long among strangers
that I have become strange to myself.
Each step I take is weighted with memory.
Each window I pass reflects a stranger—
strange how each face is strangely familiar
in each strange place.
When I return home where memory resides,
the familiar has grown strange.
The wind blows from a different direction,
there are ruined buildings on familiar corners,
the newspaper has changed its name,
and there is a new minister in the old church
who wears his father’s face
with some unexpected alterations.
The river is half its former size;
the town barely survives.
In strange lands where no one knows me,
and on streets I have known all my life,
the strange has grown oddly familiar,
and the familiar oddly strange.
-previously published in a slightly different form in Current (July 2011)
©2015 Michael L. Newell