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By Claudia Rankine

At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother, I am asked to drink from my water bottle.

                   This water bottle?

                   That's right. Open it and drink from it.


At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother, I am asked to take off my shoes.

                   Take off my shoes?

                   Yes. Both Please.

At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother, I am asked if I have a fever.

                   A fever? Really?

                   Yes. Really.


My grandmother is in a nursing home. It's not bad. It doesn't smell like pee. It doesn't smell like anything. When I go to see her, as I walk through the hall past the common room and the nurses' station, old person after old person puts out his or her hand to me. Steven, one says. Ann, another calls. It's like being in a third-world country, but instead of food or money you are what is wanted, your company. In third-world coun­tries I have felt overwhelmingly American, calcium-rich, privileged, and white. Here, I feel young, lucky, and sad. Sad is one of those words that has given up its life for our country, it's been a martyr for the American dream, it's been neutralized, co-opted by our culture to suggest a tinge of discomfort that lasts the time it takes for this and then for that to happen, the time it takes to change a channel. But sadness is real because once it meant something real. It meant dignified, grave; it meant trustworthy; it meant exceptionally bad, deplor­able, shameful; it meant massive, weighty, forming a compact body; it meant falling heavily; and it meant of a color: dark. It meant dark in color, to darken. It meant me. I felt sad.


Claudia Rankine, “At the airport security checkpoint… (pp. 105-108)” from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Copyright © 2004 by Claudia Rankine.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

Source: Don't Let Me Be Lonely (Graywolf Press, 2004)

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Poet Bio

Claudia Rankine
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, poet Claudia Rankine earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University. Her work often crosses genres as it tracks wild and precise movements of mind. Twentieth Century African-American Poetry (1996). Her play Detour/South Bronx premiered in 2009 at New York’s Foundry Theater. In 2013, she was elected as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and in 2014 she received a Lannan Literary Award. She has taught at the University of Houston, Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, and Pomona College. See More By This Poet

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