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Lochlanina Tobey

My name is an unusual gift from my father, it both defines me as different and encourages me to break out of the definitions others would create for me. I am often slotted into different ethnic categories on the basis of my name, rarely are those categories correct. Although I am proud of my ancestry, I find myself frustrated and angered by the perpetual need of others to categorize my heritage before any real communication can occur. This poem grew out of that frustration.

The culture of North America is often called a melting pot, but I have found that to be in many ways untrue. Under the surface of this prescribed blending there are currents of individuality which do not fit neatly into expectations. In writing "White Noise" I wanted to speak to the cultural and ethnic stereotypes we, each of us, unconsciously assume for ourselves and for others. Individuals, of any colour, are like random noises we strive to cover-up with a low hum of cultural suppositions.

Third Prize Winner of $150 in the 2006 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest

White Noise

“Low levels of white noise can be used to cover up other random noises”

They were expecting a Latino woman
A woman of dark hair and swirling colored skirts
A woman of sun baked adobe, cactus and meringue, samba and salsa
A woman with jalapeno peppers and a sombrero
With a mariachi band in her pocket
Who would wield the Virgin de Guadeloupe
Like some massive castanet
And croon a rosary in the language of conquistadors

They were expecting a Pacific Island woman
A woman of exotic eyes and flowered lai
A woman of native ancestors, palm huts and coracles, cockatoos and coconuts
A woman with a ukulele and grass skirt
With a volcano in her pocket
Who would have joined the foreign missionaries
Like the pounding ocean surf
Zealously instructing and re-telling her conversion

They were expecting an African woman
A woman of coffee beauty and powerful presence
A woman of righteous anger over bus seats and apartheid, ghettos, famine and genocide
A woman with a Kofi hat or Kente cloth
With an elephant in her pocket
Who would shout unto the Lord
Like the rhythm of a beaten drum
While angels echo her “Hallelujah! Amen.”

They were expecting an Arab woman
A woman of veils and oasis
A woman of countries embroiled in war, harems and tapas, camels and oil
A woman with hanging gardens and desert views
With pyramids in her pocket
Who would face Mecca seven times a day
Like the ever turning dervish
And walk behind her husband saying “Allah, be Praised.”

They were expecting a White woman
A woman of pale skin and immigration
A woman of feudal systems and Shakespeare, Gutenberg, and persecution
A woman with canals and Guinness in her veins
With the Eiffel Tower in her pocket
Who would sit in a stiff Sunday pew and listen
Like a good soldier
Who will scrub your soul and behind your ears with equal determination

They were expecting what they thought they heard
A woman of a certain race or creed
A woman of accepted guidelines
Consistent with a culture or ethnicity, stereotypes and definitions
Who folds her spirit neatly in the expected box
Keeps Christ quiet in her pocket
And wears the low hum of humanity
Like a veil across her soul

Copyright ©2006 by Lochlanina Tobey