Carnegie Mellon University

"How I Came to Be American" by Charu Sharma

Second Place for College Poetry

And I was born with ten toes
and I was born with ten fingers,
two eyes and two ears,
and one heart, or so they say.

And I was born red in the heart
and I was born blue in the brain
like police sirens,
like a box of rocket popsicles,
like a true American.

And it betrayed my brown skin,
like the monsoon mud,
like the dry cracked earth,
like July in Rajasthan,
like Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate
bars from the Indian store,
like mehendi, like henna
on a new bride’s arm,
elbow-deep in commitment,
like my mother and her mother
and her mother
who learned to choke
before she learned to speak,
like the temples we’ve inscribed our histories into,
like brown paper bags
so used
to expanding
for the deep breaths
of others.

And my heart shouted at that skin,
my brain chanted over its delicate
and carefully crafted
Sanskrit script—
U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A.

And so my parents named me
American. Or so they say.

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