Dominique Daye Hunter
I was born and raised in the tri-state area of New York City. Passaic County, New Jersey to be exact. And though I moved to Phoenix, Arizona about ten years ago, I still go back east to Jersey and the Carolina’s to visit my family about once every summer.
Being in the southwest sometimes feels like another world. In fact, it is another world. I was talking to a guy I was dating at the time about what it’s like “back home,” meaning Jersey/New York.
“Oh, I know that,” he said rolling his eyes. I nodded at first, but then I remembered that this wasn’t the other guy I was dating that had at least visited New York a couple times. No: this dude had never even set foot on the north eastcoast.
I stopped in my tracks, but it being so long, some of my Jersey crassness had faded. I should have said, “Whaddaya talking about!? You don’t know New York!” And so, I wrote this poem for him, and every other person in other parts of the country or even parts of the world that pretend to know my home without ever setting foot.
“New York State of Mind”
You don’t know New York.
But you’d like to think you do, heh?
from watching TV shows about the NYPD
but never knowing the smell of the coffee
in those Greek-patterned, blue deli cups;
or the corruption splattered like
black liquid on sidewalks.
You think you know the City that never sleeps
from reruns of Batman animations
and comic books and movies,
you only imitating our accents
never having heard the thick Jersey dialect
on the lips and tongues of your father and Babushka;
never once realizing they have an accent
until you’ve been gone from home for ten years
because, “Well, that’s just how they talk.”
You say you know Italian cuisine;
and I’m not saying that’s my heritage,
but still, growing up in the tristate
gives you a roundabout license to certify
good Italian food.
Your only reference for Italian food
is a fat cat cartoon
who loves lasagna
and the Olive Garden!
You don’t know of the life:
one fifty a slice,
extra cheesy, round or Sicilian style.
Can you even pronounce Siciliano?
Have you ever even had a cannoli?
...Do you even know what a cannoli is!?
You dream of the New York City that everyone loves:
the one that welcomes immigrants and tourists alike
with hot dogs and the bright lights;
but you don't know the weariness
in your feet after walking 20 blocks
because you couldn’t breathe
and couldn’t take the hot summer subway anymore.
You've heard the rivalry
of the Yankees vs the Mets;
But of this I'm sure, I bet:
you don't have memories
of parking under overpasses
infested with pigeons
until one unlucky day
you hear your dad curse and wipe the bird shit
off his head.
Hey-it turned out to be good luck after all: the Yankees won that day.
You have no recollection of late night drives home
over bridges and through tunnels
holding onto souvenirs
that represent paternal love.
You brag about diversity with your one black friend
and your love of Mexican food.
You claim inclusion without a thought,
but have never stewed inside the melting pot.
You've never stood outside of Penn Station
walking amongst people
from China, Haiti, and Jamaica
and the smell of cuisine from Poland to Portugal.
You claim to idolize Biggie and Lauren Hill
but never even crossed the Brooklyn Bridge;
never stepped foot in the Apollo
where both pride and fear are swallowed.
You say you know New York:
bright lights, Broadway shows
Oh, you know the ropes?:
The New Year's ball drop,
horses in Central Park;
but what about the weight of 100 dark nights,
and gray, short days,
and the weight of damp, cold subways,
and the smog that burns your eyes?
What about the crushing weight of oppressive, bitter pride?
Do you know the weight that pulls you down and down
into steaming sewage drains
as your gaze gets lost
amongst a sea of strangers?
Have you sat on the train, watching as you wonder
where all the whales went
and, “When did Jersey City start smelling like that?”
as your mind wanders and fades into a blur
of unused train tracks?
You don't know the smell
of urine and old pretzels and trash
as you hop back on the path.
You don’t know the melody of a dozen languages
that you may not understand but that breathe life and culture.
You’ve never leaned your head tiredly against
smeared NJ transit window panes
as you think back to granite museum halls
filled with stolen and original art;
as you go back to a home you wonder
how long you can afford,
back to a door of musty wood
that you close behind you
to find the pieces of the peace
you once left behind."
Dominique Daye Hunter (Black, Sappony/Irish/Polish descent) is a poet/spoken word/hiphop artist, short story writer, and clothing line entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Indigenous Womxn In Solidarity Empowered + Rising and The LuLu Experience: Festival and Publication. Hunter has her B.S. in Nonprofit Leadership Management with an emphasis in American Indian Studies, and lives between the southeast + southwestern U.S. Follow her journey on Instagram @ddayehunter.