Car Insurance Policy

Karen refugees in Thailand

today i called to see
if i could get
a different rate
on my car insurance policy

in the folds
of this thin paper
i began to hear you
and your tales
of the struggles
of a people far away
and i forgot all my bargaining

i hadn’t owned a car
for nine years
i said
you called me a free spirit

as if i tapped into some possibility
resting on your chest so heavily
like a shut door
waiting to swing open widely

it all came out, tumbling —
the Karen people
your son,
American consumption,
and the jungle…

i waited patiently
as i knew
all you wanted
was to speak

somewhere between
the phone calls
and price quotes
and capitalist antidotes
you wanted to be heard

you talked about your son
how this young man
of twenty-three
didn’t want to go to school
and then make lots of money

all he could think about
was the Karen people
that he met at church

they told him tales
of living in refugee camps,
displaced and disgraced.

and soon
written across his chest
you found
in large script letters
in Karen Burmese


he placed it there

somewhere along the way
how much i had to pay
for my car insurance policy —

it just fell away

your words kept coming
like a stream
only wanting to meet
the ocean

they live like Native Americans
you said proudly
they don’t use refrigerators
they use cabinets
for Christmas — no gifts
they want to play and sing
they save their money
as one family
if they want to watch a movie
they go out and rent a copy
they work minimum wage jobs
yet owe no money
and live comfortably
they treat my son
like family
like a brother or a son,

you then said
that you took your grandson
over to their house
and if he cried
they were so quick to calm him

…you realized

…this is the way it was
in the camps in the jungle
…hiding from the Burmese soldiers

you went to the hospital
with a young woman
pregnant with new life

…not a sound,
you said

…as the baby tore through
her soft flesh
into this world

…not a sound

…they were taught
to stay quiet in the jungle,
you said…

somewhere in this web
of stories
and images
i forgot my concern
about paying too much
for my car insurance…

right now,
a cry is hushed in the jungle…

right now,
soldiers listen carefully
for signs of life,
only to take it away

something inside your son
cries out for freedom
let’s not hush this, my friend

let’s see where he goes with this…
even if it doesn’t add up
to a college degree,
or financial security…
he is living purposefully.
and, consider that the sum
of him doing that is priceless —
what that does for his spirit
and the human family.


someone’s coming…

July 11, 2010 — I wrote this poem for Mary who works for Progressive (car insurance company). I wrote this poem for her 23 year old son. And, I wrote this poem for the Karen people that continue to be displaced. The conversation I had with Mary really threw me for a loop. I found it amazing how my worry concerning the cost of my car insurance policy could diminish so fast while I talked with Mary.

The conversation started out pretty normal — the usual, distant customer service voice (you know, if a type writer could speak). She began to ask me questions about my insurance background and I took her all over the place explaining my alternative history. She called me a free spirit and then quickly surfaced a big concern in her life — her son… Her voice changed to be softer and more colorful.

Soon she was telling me about Karen refugees in her community and at her church. She said her son had little direction until he met some Karen families. Now, he is learning to teach English, is teaching them English, is driving them to appointments, and is sitting with them at family meals. She became involved with helping Karen families because of her son.

I have worked with immigrant and refugee communities also for the past 5-6 years (while in San Francisco). I really related to the sense of purpose her son feels. Providing families the tools to adapt to America has been really important to me. As well as, learning from and hearing their stories of struggle…strength…and perseverance… By working with these families and individuals, my issues lessened…they became lighter…and I began catching glimpses of our bigger, global picture. I also learned a lot of traditional wisdom from these families.

It is a complicated world. And, the teenagers and early 20s folks growing up right now are inheriting it. I think it is best to allow them to carve new paths, to create more networks of peace, and to listen to their ideas and concerns about our world. In my small way, that is what I wish for this poem to offer this young man (and his mother).

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