Permanent Address

My three sons, when you come to immigration 
and they ask you
your permanent address, tell them
Rural Route One, Sexsmith, Alberta – just along the Emerson Trail.
One of you has a footprint on the baby wall of Grande Prairie’s QEII,
but the others let first scream in Shashamane and Empress Zauditu.
Don’t tell them
that you attended boarding schools in Kenya and Addis Ababa.
Don’t tell them about childhood addresses such as Wando, Jimma, Bonga,
that your forebears’ addresses included Manchuria, Japan, Nandi, China,
that your mother lived her girlhood on Kenya’s great Rift Valley slopes,
that your blood holds American, French, Ukrainian, Cherokee and more,
that you have traveled Israel, Tanzania, crisscrossed the British isles,
that you have lived in Vancouver, Meadow Lake, Ethiopia and Iraq
that your grandparents are buried in Florida, Canada, Kenya and New York.
Do tell them that your permanent address is
Rural Route One, Sexsmith, Alberta – just along the Emerson Trail – your home place.
It is there you find your father’s roots,
where George and Nellie, walking through the muskeg from Ukraine
and North Dakota, staked out a homestead, bore ten children;
where the ancestral home is now in the hands of a third generation
and a cairn in the poplar grove is the ultimate commemoration;
where the old bunk house still guards your treasures: Masai knives,
stuffed birds, Somali daggers, letters home from boarding school,
Kenya shillings and school badges,
first love notes, photos…
memories from a thousand years and places.
My three sons, when you come to immigration
and they ask you
your permanent address, tell them
Rural Route One, Sexsmith, Alberta – just along the Emerson Trail.

~ Lila Balisky

Lila Balisky has written for the Globe and Mail and several journals. The daughter of medical missionaries, she spent 12 years as a girl in Kenya and 38 years with her husband, Paul, serving in Ethiopia. Now retired in Grande Prairie, near her husband’s roots, she aspires to do more writing.

“‘No matter what, no matter where, it’s always home if love is there.’ With travel back and forth many times across the world, this motto, crafted for me years ago by one of my sisters, is very special to all our family and hangs now at the doorway of our home here in Grande Prairie. In 1978, during the Marxist revolution in Ethiopia, we were evicted from our home and campus ministry in a southwest province and allowed to take only a few items with us. One of the items was this treasured motto because I wanted our three sons to feel secure wherever we might land in the political upheaval of those years.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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