and Walpole grew up in a housing project the writer-activist Fred Wilcox called “the most outrageous situation I have encountered during tenyears of living in American slums.”] For me, it was intensified by myparents coming from Romania. And what might be true of immigrantchildren anywhere is that they don’t really belong to the culture theycame from and they always have a sense of unease about the culturethey’re in. I know this is particularly true of Vietnamese. I read oncewith someone who was born in Vietnam but who couldn’t speak Vietnamese very well or negotiate a conversation on Vietnamese literature.That displacement was partly mine, though I wasn’t consciously awareof it until my parents tried to send me to church. I had been christenedin the Romanian Orthodox Church, but then my older sisters took meto Lehman Memorial Methodist church—and that’s where I first felt social displacement and was old enough to grasp a sense of discrimination. The children where you and I were from were not all always thatwelcomed outside and were often treated in a patronizing manner thateven as a child I found offensive. I finally just refused to go to church.And what happened there stuck with me into adulthood and formed mysense of the dislocations that exist in American society for people whoare different.
My father came from a small village in the Romanian Banat. Manyof the villagers were Schwäbisch Germans, as well as Serbs and Hungarians. At eighteen, he was a roundhouse foreman in the CarpathianMountains, plucked out by the government and then sent to a polytechnic, from where he graduated as an engineer in the 1920s as theAustro-Hungarian empire fell apart. His accented English was foreversomewhat charming, sometimes embarrassing.
WALPOLE: You have written beautiful poems about your mother andyour sister, but I don’t remember any about your father.
BALABAN: There’s one in Path, Crooked Path. He came out to see me inNew Mexico, where I was writing at the Wurlitzer Foundation. I pickedhim up in Albuquerque and took him to Taos. There I had been workingon a novel and a book of poetry. I introduced him to all my friends inTaos, and then we drove back in my pickup truck all across the UnitedStates, and that’s what the poem was about. I don’t think we settled anyold issues; we just sort of settled things by ignoring things and travelingtogether. We had a good time looking at the highways, getting caught