Portrait in Burnt Orange and Bitter Almonds

C. Dale Young

Perhaps to escape violence or war, to escape

living in one tiny room … On a ship from Spain,

on a ship from Hong Kong, on a ship from India,

my great grandparents left the countries of their birth

to travel for opportunity, for safety, for love.

Yes, for love, because members of my family have

a penchant for marrying people their parents deem

“inappropriate”: a Chinese cook marrying an Indian

maidservant, an indentured Spaniard marrying

a Puerto Rican Taino woman, and so on. Even the two

of us, two men marrying each other. Sitting on a terrace

overlooking Lake Como, we were nothing more

than minor nobility, something only my English

great grandparents understood. On my father’s side,

regardless of origin, poverty. You sipped grappa,

and I chose to sip amaretto, the warm orange liquid

made from the almond but better for the digestive tract

than the other potion brewed from almonds. I called it

my poison, despite the fact I knew full well it was not

cyanide. All of my paternal ancestors would have worked

on this estate as servants, as gardeners, as handymen.

Love makes people mad, my love. It asks of a man

or woman to leave one’s family, one’s country,

all for the sake of the beloved. For centuries, immigrant

has been a dirty word, but I am an immigrant, the result of

four generations of immigrants. I watch the horizon, the sun

setting, in much the way my ancestors did, with a foolish sense

of hope and an irreconcilable sadness, with the knowledge

a sunset is a sunset in any land, regardless of where you call home.


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