A Sestina for Traveling Season

by Geetha Iyer (Honorable Mention) Issue: Spring/Summer 2017

Honorable Mention, R.T. Smith Prize for Narrative Poetry

Judge’s Comment:
Who can resist a narrative that employs an old, almost mandarin form for its movement?  “A Sestina for Traveling Season” is timely and compassionate, the story of our restless kind struggling and evolving across the ages, as triggered by an airport experience.  

A Sestina for Traveling Season

“the same ‘species’ that are nonindigenous, naturalized, or invasive in one
area are native somewhere else”

– R. I. Colautti and H. J. MacIsaac, 2004

“articles imply that they have become disconnected to their homelands and
will never return”

– B. Subramaniam, 2001

“we are now part of the way the world is”

– B. M. H. Larson, 2007

At passport control, I stand with nonresident aliens,
Cocooned in sounds of other languages, murmured exotic
Syllables. Think of the babies in this queue, tiny ears naturalized
To trills, clicks, retroflexes. They’ll grow. They’ll learn to filter native
From foreign, dismiss uncommon words, unseasoned travelers, spot the immigrant
Stance, the fledgling grip of starlings about to leave their nests. Bloody invasive 

Nuisance, they’ll hiss. Go away, people say, but kudzu persists. Emerald invasive,
Reforming the South in its image. Visiting cousins marvel the alien
Landscape—they expected steel flash, concrete and neon. Don’t immigrants
Always settle the city of New York? You, seasoned traveler, recognize the real exotic—
houses under live oak roofs, Spanish moss curtains, stately walls of native
Pines, planted orchards. That breeze of orange blossom—Asian perfume, naturalized.

Is this home? I could tell you where to go to fix the holes in your boots. Naturalized
Citizens differ from me by paperwork—they’ll pass while I’m processed, asked invasive
Questions about my intentions—I will not settle here, I’ll return to my native
Land, I’ll carry tales of your politics, histrionic as my people’s own. Alien
Among aliens, I nod at other unseasonable travelers. Note pedigree among exotics,
The wanted and the unwanted, l’européens e los indios, émigré and immigrant.

Summer yawns sallow breath into winter. You, recent immigrant,
Unaccustomed, consider acclimation to weather a sign of naturalization.
Even songbirds, seasonal travelers, decided not to leave, fill the air with exotic,
Anachronous music. Underwood, beetle grubs molt off their youth to invasive
Warmth, fly with egg-thoughts for new trees. Rust consumes the evergreen woods, alien
False-fall of sap-parched leaves. In this climate, we act as we are driven, follow native

Desire. Why else build airports? The urge to scatter is inborn code, the innate
Feeling of spring-loaded peas within desiccated pods. Snap. Past immigration,
We swamp the baggage carousels, parched of our belongings, alienated
From our bundled homes for too long. We identify luggage by minutiae. Naturally,
The fingerprint of nicks and scratches on each suitcase is unique. We invade
Each other’s personal space to reclaim our own. Blame traveling season, the exoticized

Period of time when the sun shines brightest upon an other’s nest. The exotic
Pull of a new world, the lust for rich earth. We do not speak the native
Tongue, cannot ask permission to stay. Years pass, and an invasive
Thought burrows behind our sinuses, the heels of our feet. The immigrant’s
Curse – to adapt, to feel at home when so far from, to become naturalized,
Untraveled, unseasoned, unable to turn around. To be settled feels terrible, alien. So

We burst and scatter, again, the exotic restlessness that brands us forever immigrant.
Forget airports, we’ll settle Mars, make native the rarefied air. The naturalized
Are none but last season’s invasives, who disowned their former travels as alien.

Geetha Iyer

Geetha Iyer received an MFA in Creative Writing & Environment from Iowa State University in 2014. Her fiction and poetry appear in journals including Orion, Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter and the Mid-American Review, among others. Recognition for her work includes the O. Henry Award, the James Wright Poetry Award, the Calvino Prize, and the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize. She was a 2016 writer-in-residence at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. She grew up in the United Arab Emirates and presently lives in Panama.