Assimilation & Integration


My mother has no idea


where I went during temple.

There was a secret door behind the small chapel;

it led to Blockbuster—


I ate Sour Patch Watermelons during all eighteen

of my classmates’ Bar Mitzvahs.

Nobody could find me.


I hard armpits that grew payos before my face could.

I pulled them out; Scotch-taped them to my cheeks,

never showed anyone the pictures.


I wore it on my chest;

a star tucked into an undershirt

in a middle school locker room.


I kicked my way through the hallways,

saved allowance for an entire year

to buy my first pair: Air Force One mid-tops.


I walked through the holy sanctuary

like a duck;

my shoelaces were anchors.


I had friends who knew who I was

Jewish, just

wanted to know I was black first.


I tucked my yarmulke into my suit pocket

every Saturday

before my friends gave me daps


on my walk home.


My grandfather treated his Jamaica

like an accent

he taught my father to not use,


tucked his shirt in each morning—

his corporate uniform a pristine onyx,

not a wrinkle until he was back in his own bedroom.


My grandfather came to this country

a pumice stone, slapped the island

off of my father’s tongue.


He polished my father until the neighourhood

could see its reflection in his black shining skin;

smoothed every aperture, filled each pore.


My grandfather never went back over the water.

“Assimilation” and “Integration” are two poems from Samuels collection of work  Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps

Header image design by Orly Zebak.

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