Chalk

chalk2

At Ellis island, after enduring hazardous almost inhuman conditions in steerage or 3rd class quarters, immigrants were screened for certain diseases, their level of intelligence/sanity and family sponsors. If rejected for entry into the U. S.  or selected for  further screening, the examiners marked their clothing with chalk, certain letters meant different reasons for denial and the experience, itself, most likely felt like being branded with a stigma. Only poor passengers were filed through Ellis Island and treated with suspicion, even disdain. Travelers coming from first or second class, were allowed on shore immediately and treated  with respect and civility.  

 

Chalk

(Considering America, 1911)

I

The moon marks the sky

with a  comma. A pause

written on slate;

 

and the moment

becomes a still life

as I look toward the table.

 

My shadow falling

over a key, a man’s silver

cigarette case, (The kind embossed

with vine leaves.)

 

and a torn envelope.

2

In her letter, my sister warns —

You’re so  beautiful, clever,

do whatever you must

to get enough money

for a cabin.

 

Steerage will sicken you

with its lack of space

&  fresh air, not to mention

clean beds & water. And to this.

 

you can say nothing.

Your voice

becomes the shriek of  gulls,

the scratch of mice…

3.

In sleep, my hair spills

into fresh linen, then an ocean. White caps

mark the water

 

with an emphasis

on  storm. I feel waves

shattering against the rocks,

 

a cough breaking

at the edge of my throat.

 

My lungs fill.

Swollen baggage

within a turnstile  of bone   —

 

and the dream widens

into a harbor. Our Mother

of  Exiles in the middle.

 

I call  to her

and awaken.

4.

Morning begins

with a large crow perched

on the window ledge.  The bird

keeps plucking at his blue feathers

and I remember

 

more of  Olga’s  letter. The part

about a woman’s  shawl

marked with chalk. A doctor rubbing  dust

off  his fingertips, and  someone

leading her back toward  the ship.

5.

The moon

still lingers  in the sky —

and  I shiver, smudged weightless

in a white chemise.

__________________________________________________

The beautiful painting is by artist, Nick Alm

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. Wendy,

    I have said it many times before; again I feel your empathy.
    You cause your readers to experience the trials, the tribulations,
    and the successes of the personas you create. You show your
    caring core with each poem and your poetry does what poetry
    is supposed to do: It endows the reader with new eyes, new
    vision.

    As for the immigration system, this poem reminds us that this
    nation was peopled by immigrants. How quickly we forget.

    I am always fully engaged in your poetry. This one goes up
    there on the top shelf.

    sarah

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wendy, I have wondered, after reading some of your poems, “How does she know this? How does she get in there and show us with her words that she truly know the one she writes about?” Sarah’s words say it: “you cause us to experience…” Thank you for that, though sometimes the experience is uncomfortable. Like now. The immigrant I carry inside wonders if today I might be held at the border, turned away. How did we arrive at the place where, if you aren’t from here, you don’t belong here? Thank you for seeing, understanding, and sharing.
    ptc

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Sarah

    Thank you so much for your beautiful commentary and asessement of my poetic works! I am very moved and touched by your kindness and continual interest in my writing It helps to keep me hopeful and inspired. Again, thank you so much dear friend, your words and encouragement make a wonderful difference!

    Hi Ptc,

    I guess I feel the situation and the characters ( sometimes) through personal experience and history, as my own grandparents came through Ellis Isand; and other times, when interested in pursuing a certain idea, experience of another’s story I may have encountered from an internet article or book, I look further into it and see what else there is available on the subject. But most of all, I try to imagine myself in that situation and how I would feel if it were my own story. Thank you so much for your lovely commentary and interest in this poem. I agree about the sadness of the border and how often immigrants are judged harshly because they seem poor or ignorant or are from the “wrong” country. It is a shame because we are all human beings created by God and we all deserve humanity, dignity and compassion.

    Again my best to you both,
    please take care,
    Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Wendy,

    What a wonder you are. I love the beginning in this as I feel I’m with the “comma moon” while I step into ‘the setting’ of your poem. (Great description–that comma moon.) Immigration issues are heartbreaking. Even in this poem I feel a pull toward truth–some things in this life are not right. The injustice is unfair. We are all humans worthy of experiencing beauty in this life. Respect toward life itself radiates worth of the human. You are skilled with crafting fine poetry; I’m always intrigued during/after reading your work.

    Jan

    Like

  5. Hi Jan

    Your very kind and beautiful commentary on my poem is deeply appreciated!! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your perspective. I am glad you enjoyed this poem and really appreciate/agree with your perspective on humanity and our need to be more aware of our own humanity and compassion.

    Thank you so much,
    my best
    Wendy

    Like

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