That Merriam-Webster, you know--
The paperback with the musty smell and the bright red circle
On the cover, a standard, commonplace to school and kirk-
States that there are
Three definitions for Cru-Ci-Ble.
The first definition to show:
‘A vessel … used for melting ... a substance that requires a high degree of heat.’
They --‘“they”--say that,
America, is the ‘great crucible,’ a melting pot of genes and cultures, no mean feat.
We’re all American.
And yet when they,
See my bright red hair, they need to separate me into a tribe; identify my immigrant roots--
“You’re Irish, right?”
False! I’m Scottish, Swedish, Norwegian, English, and Welsh;
The whitest of the white all mixed together here in the desert,
A place evolution never evolved my genes for me to be.
But I was taught it's rude not to answer someone’s question:
“Not a drop of Irish in me.”
I was also raised to be truthful, so I add the caveat:
“That I’m aware of.”
I walk away pondering why, why do we have to
Associate red hair and Irish, and separate me out;
I’m a fifth generation citizen;
I pay my taxes and vote.
I’m also a geneticist and a historian.
I wish I could tell these people, the gene for red hair that Ireland is so famous for;
It came from Norway when a group left first for Scotland and then for Ireland afar.
I’m from that part of Norway and Scotland where the people with the red hair are.
My people with my red hair lived there long before those migrants ever brought
My ancestors’ red hair genes to Ireland in their boots.
A crucible is supposed to be something that brings things together,
But it seems that red hair,
A thick accent,
And colored skin,
Are bright enough to have withstood the crucible fire.
They’re seperate, still pooling in that dish above a fire.
The second definition of crucible is one I know:
“A severe test.”
My great-great-great grandfather was white. Not only was he white,
He was the right kind of white--
A smooth unblemished cream color,
A mouth that spoke English words,
A masculine body that could perform labor,
A poet trained,
You know the rest.
Well my grandfather at least,
Looked like the right kind of white;
His God was the same God as his neighbor’s and his Queen’s;
Only he worshipped their God under the wrong steeple.
And so he went to the promised land to put up his own lean,
Where ‘The star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,’
Bidding goodbye to his native land:
“Farewell, my countrymen a’. . .
To auld Scotia’s land;
And her glory is faded awa’;
For the darkness of night,
O’er the homes of the brave . . .
For the terror of night,
Gives the tyrant his right . . .”1
And Lady Liberty welcomed him with smiles, embracing him in her arms tight,
While turning her back on his fellow immigrants with complexions too dark,
Dresses too strange, and miasma lingering on their barked breaths.
She kept him in her embrace until she found his steeple,
He worshiped her God in the wrong site.
Welcome to America.
Welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free.
Welcome to America.
Welcome the crucible, welcome the fire burning to higher a degree.
The third definition of crucible raised my brow:
“A place or situation in which concentrated forces
interact to cause or influence change or development.”
Here in their huddled masses, standing on the land of religious freedom,
My ancestors entered their crucible.
They were chased out of their homes, until they found their desert refuge,
A place for them to develop and change.
Here in this place, chased away by the world, they built their own buildings,
created their own culture, and made that crucible above the fire a third helping hand.
The results of the American crucibles are all around--
We say ‘schlepping’ a Yiddish word when we don't know what a yenta is,
Or the difference between a bar mitzvah and a bat mitzvah.
We celebrate St. Paddy’s Day and revel in all the Irish stereotypes,
When my three-greats grandfather would have looked down on those ‘lazy drunks’.
We (for the most part) vaccinate our children against disease,
Forgetting that one African slave had the courage to tell his white preacher master,
About his heathen tribe’s practice, something today we call inoculation.
They Americanized the children of all those immigrants, in what historians call a crucible,
based on Merriam-Webster’s definition one.
But in definitions two and three, trials and development,
That's where the Santa Lucias, the Father Nicholas's, the Cinco de Mayos,
the kimchee, and the shoes by the door are found;
and it's where the Chinatowns and the Little Italy's were founded.
The land of the free and brave today are the immigrants and their descendants,
who entered the crucible and who’ve never left it,
enduring their trials in their crucible propped above a hot white fire,
making something new with those reactants that pool, refusing to melt.
Brave is my Scottish ancestor who left his beloved Scotland,
Recognizing a tyrant ‘in the dark,’ and crossed open seas, plains, and deserts;
To give me my freedom and my own crucibles.
Brave is my first-generation American friends, whose parents fled
their own tyrant ‘in the dark’.
I look the right type of white:
red hair, blue eye, freckles, pale skin always stained by the Sun red.
But I see the look when I say my religion:
I’m not the right type of white anymore.
“They” look at me, wanting me to wear an outward sign of my difference:
Why am I not wearing something like a hijab or a yamika?
Something to offset that white skin stained red by the sun.
Those in the hijab look at me with understanding eyes, kind smiles and open arms;
Those in a yamika don’t see my steeple, only me;
They buffer the “they”.
“They” judge me as Irish, normal, main-stream.
Truth and falsehoods.
I’m normal, I’m main-stream but I’m Scottish and different--I’m a Mormon,
(To steal a campaigned phrase).
My ancestors have survived the melting pot with my Christmas Eve Swedish dinners,
My steeple, and my grandfather’s Scottish poetry.
And now it's my turn.
I’m in the crucible: I know my Jay-Z, my Beyonce, my Bach, and my Tupoch.
My trials are the same as my ancestors: To worship in a different kirk;
But I have my own crucibles as well:
I’m a woman in science, going to study law.
And it’s here in my crucible that I can help identify all of those pooling reactants:
So that “As-salamu Alaikum” incorporates itself like schlepping into our vernacular
And not just “Allah akbar” from Arabic;
So that “they” know that a bar mitzvah is for a boy and bat mitzvah is for a girl;
So that we know what preferred gender pronouns are;
And so that we know how to talk to about Diderot and D’Holbach.
This is the land of the brave, the land of the free,
No night sky is here,
No tyrant is here;
Only the light to shine on the “they” and the “them.”
to the land of the Free.
to your crucibles.
Lyon, John. “The Poet’s Farewell” from The Harp of Zion, a Collection of Poems, Etc.