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From the VQR Vault: Identity on the Brink

ISSUE:  Winter 2015

The gentle doctor of Crimea’s shore
who took the sick into his arms
has left us with these lines:
“know why you live or everything
is wild grass.”

Peter Balakian, “Talking over Chekov, Montauk Point,” Summer 1983

The fabled assumption is that people long to come to the US because of the opportunities it offers: free education, a chance to work, basic liberty. For children coming alone, the truth is often much darker than that. Rather than being lured to America for its promises—​what advocates call “pull factors”—​kids are fleeing legitimate fears at home.

Lauren Markham, “First the Fence, Then the System,” Summer 2013

We see now, for example, the “melting pot” bubbling and behold cultures and races in what seems to be a nondescript flux… A part of this entity is music. And it is a very important part. Folk music, our folk music, is not only a thing of beauty in itself; it is also an indispensable basis for art development. 

George Pullen Jackson, “America’s Folk-Songs,” Winter 1936

But lately it has occurred to me that every human being, even the ones who seem to have no trouble putting one foot after another, many of these people are actually gyroscopes, Doctor, spinning on nothing, on air. And one little push, one breath, can knock them off course forever.

Francine Prose, “An Open Letter to Doctor X,” Spring 2006 

It is obvious that communism is in a serious crisis both domestically and internationally. But it is less clear of what the crisis consists and, more particularly, what its results are likely to be for the rest of the world…Eastern Europe has come to resemble the stage set of Les Miserables, but with the revolutionaries this time winning. 

Greg Russell, “America’s National Purpose Beyond the Cold War: New Lessons From the Old Realism,” Summer 1992

What is the name of the country you live in? Ukraine. What are the colors of its flag? Blue like the sea and the sky, and a golden yellow like the sun and the wheat in the fields. What is the name of the capital? The beautiful city of Kiev. What city do you live in? Slavutych. When was it built? In 1988. Why? Because there was a nuclear explosion. The teacher nods after each answer.

Maria P. Vassileva, “The Resurrection,” Fall 2011

I cannot see him plain, that far-off sire
Who notched the first oak on this western hill,
And the bronze tablet cannot tell what fire
(Urging the deep bone back to the viking wave)
Kindled his immigrant eye and drove his will.
But in the hearthside tale his rumor grows,
As voice to voice into the folkchain melts
And clamor of danger brings the lost kin close.

David Morton, “Hermitage,” Winter 1943


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