Out-Migrant

How do you describe someone who has left one kind of population for another when there are no international borders crossed? How do you name and categorize that movement?

This question and predicament always reminds me of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. In it Anse Bundren describes knowing that God didn’t intend for men to move because he made them “up-and-downways.”

The Lord put roads for travelling: why He laid them down flat on the earth. When He aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it longways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man… Because if He’d a aimed for a man to be always a-moving and going somewheres else, wouldn’t He a put him longways on his belly, like a snake? It stands to reason He would.

Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, 1930

Obviously, the logic is a bit faulty, but thinking about how and why people move is still an important question. And so is what we call that movement. I started using out-migrant because (1) I had seen it used in other scholarly research and (2) it describes a person’s leaving one place for another that doesn’t involve the specificity of national borders. What isn’t present in the term is any kind of cataloging of the reasons why someone might leave and/or the multitude of feelings they might have about it.

The poem below is my way of thinking through that.

Out-Migrant

You didn’t cross a national border
An invisible line rendered visible 
By war and flags that carved up the land.

The line you crossed is still invisible
Missing from research 
And only demarcated in public imagination
By Andy and Opie and Aunt B
Through Green Acres 
And the appeal of a Duck Dynasty

Out is the focus of this migration
Because what you’re running from 
Is more noteworthy than where
You’re supposed to be running to.
Mostly because it's undesirable. 

I’ve gotta get outta this god-forsaken town
Rolls easily, almost naturally, off your tongue.
Success is only promised 
Only possible
If you leave.

And so we do. 
In droves.

To new and shiny places
That feel claustrophobic where 
Buildingsaretooclose and there 
Isn’t enough green space.

Where time moves too fast
And people (mis)understand your language
And take you for simple and ignorant and 
Racist and homophobic and misogynist and
Conservative. 

Even if you’re not.
Even if you are. 

So you learn to act different 
To be different
You bury your language 
And talk about your home in the 
Disparaging ways that come so easy 
Desecrating the roots of a family
Your ancestors worked so hard 
To grow. 

Until you realize that who you are
And who you’re from 
Is worth
Sustaining 

You tend your culture like a garden
Pruning problematic branches
To preserve and sustain the blossoms
That are fruit of generational labor. 

You realize that just as much as you wanted out
You want to go back in
You want to 
Return 

But the home you left moved on 
Just like you did 
And now you both are forever in a state of 
In-between 

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