I often look to poems for alternatives to the organized abandonments that structure this world. So when I first encountered Maryam Ivette Parhizkar’s “Inside the Dream of Another Country,” I assumed it would offer me a readymade otherwise. But the first line swiftly rebuked my facile utopian impulse. “Inside the dream of another country I am inside a gated community,” Parhizkar writes, and the evocation of a familiar segregated social form sends me back to the title to read better. Does “Another Country” gesture toward another world, as I’d been so intent on assuming, or does it refer to an already-populated elsewhere inside this one? And what does it mean to be inside a dream, when the word can signal not only a liberatory alternative but also, just as readily, a cruel delusion? Those of us living in the United States are, after all, living inside a settler dream of another country. Does one dwell inside a dream the way one dwells inside a gated community?
Not quite. Like Jackie Wang’s “Accoutrements,” Parhizkar’s poem reminded me that in a dream, the meanings of proximity and distance are thrown up for grabs. By occupying a space that is neither definitively abolitionist nor clearly colonial, “Inside the Dream of Another Country” rejects my desire to bypass the work of transforming not just what I know, but how I know. The poem refuses to show itself to me in any transparent sense; the terms of relation it maps become only increasingly opaque. Where learned epistemologies yield no insight, though, other ways of being-with emerge. With its speaker who is “surrounded by family to whom I am a stranger,” the poem teaches me that recognition is not the condition of kinship. There are wider ways to be.
– Claire Schwartz
Inside the Dream of Another Country
Inside the dream of another country I am inside a gated community.
I am surrounded by family to whom I am a stranger.
To honor our reunion we decide to have a celebration.
At the party I decide to share a history of where we stand.
I open my mouth. A small woman with long grey hair
tugs my sleeve pulls me close says oh no do not—I do not like—
I obey. She does not explain to me what she means.
She is someone I have known for a very long time.
Together we prepare for evening create a row of tables
poolside place & light a candle upon each one.
She gives me a small bowl & speaks a word I do not understand.
I collect for her within it silver from all our relations.
Maryam Ivette Parhizkar’s most recent chapbook is Somewhere Else the Sun is Falling into Someone’s Eyes (Belladonna* Collaborative, 2019). She is a scholar, graduate student worker, and member of the U.S. Central American collective Tierra Narrative.