Ellis Island

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

i

Hi, Dad.
Today I discovered the manifest
of the ship you sailed on
when you crossed the Atlantic alone
and arrived in New York, November 7, 1923.
The basic facts jump off the computer screen:
Age 18, single, male, brown hair,
$40 in your pocket and a
second class ticket in your hand.
Name of vessel – the “Polonia”
Ethnicity – Hebrew, Lithuanian
Port of Departure – Libau
But the pages before my eyes
say little how you felt
passing the Statue of Liberty,
said nothing of your dreams and fears.
Were you excited? Scared? Or both?
What words did you reserve
for your running thoughts then?
What words do you have for me now?

ii

You never told me tales of your youth,
except to say how hard life was,
and how you had to go without.
You never told me lessons you learned,
or what private words your parents presented,
and if they gave you blessing to cross the sea.
You never told me at the end of your life
what conclusions you had drawn
or whether you’d be leaving the world at peace.
I suspect you didn’t.
I suspect you withheld large portions of your years
that were to remain completely unopened.
Perhaps if I had known you better,
and did not gather information
off a ship’s manifest, it might have
made a difference, then again, perhaps not.
I do wish your life hadn’t been
such a Cracker Jack’s surprise box,
as I hope the airing of this and other poems
won’t be such a revelation to my own children.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish identity, poetry

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