Back in the States after Being Gone for a Long Time (poem)

Back in the States after being gone for a long time,
I’m standing
in the cereal aisle at Wal-Mart.
My list says “bran cereal” with no instructions
on how to pick out the right kind.
I tell the kids to quiet down
and remind them
that “everybody here knows English
so they can understand everything you say
now.”

A friend turns the corner and sees us: “Hey!
Long time no see.
Didn’t know you were back.
Look at you.
A little grey around the edges,
but not too bad.
Bet you’re glad to be
home.”

He’s describing me like you’d describe a used book:
Acceptable.
Slight shelf wear.
Dust jacket missing.
Discoloration on edge of spine.
A few underlined passages and extensive notes in margins.
Some dogeared
pages.

We chat about
how big the kids look and about
the new high school being built,
and then he says again,
“Bet you’re glad to be home.”
This time I respond with “Well,
both places have their advantages.”
My daughter shows me a box of
off-brand Fruit Loops,
raising her eyebrows like two question marks.
I shrug my shoulders and she puts it in the
cart.

That is the way I feel,
like a used
book.

But deep inside, I’d rather
be a manuscript.
Like one of those manuscripts
that’s been sent to
44 publishers and rejected
44 times.
Then the author’s wife sees it
in the trash folder
on the computer and sends it
in for one last try.
It’s picked up
and becomes a bestseller,
and it’s made into a movie
that wins two or
three Academy Awards.
That’s what I’d like to be, now
that I’m starting over
with this new life
in a new place that everybody says is
home.