First immigration—The Strangers of the Glass
in dress of handblown cinnamon and blue
and speaking speckled bubbles in the glass;
Their power is to come and pour a road—
to molt the land for us,
with luggage of caramel leather and brass locks—no,
there’s no romance in this travel. Only a crumbled
book in Yiddish and a tin
of buttons (remember the horn one from grandmother’s
mustard dress she wore on the train to . . .) cut from all the old
dresses, and grandmother’s
death certificate is ten days old. A plastic bag
of photographs. A dry salami.
In Hungary, they put us behind bars.
There are two waters in my land
bridged by a road of molten glass
and if you step on it, you’ll pass
outside of tenses:
neither past, nor present, nor a future, nor
(first, second, third) a person (singular or plural)
instead, a being on the road of glass
[In Hungary, they put us behind bars]
to wait for the plane. Like rats in a ca- /
people / sheep to the sla- / (now you cross out)
My grandmother’s ghost
struggled to follow us, but lost her way
somewhere in the fields between point A
and the warehouse. They didn’t
let us peek out. My father said
Budapest must be beautiful
Second Immigration—The Strangers in Soldiers’ Clothing
war-tossed in weeping ships
they arrive at Northwater. They left behind
even the ocean. Brought only the bell
forged by citymakers
by true voice-makers in the old country. The song
tolls the dead into their new earth. They build
a church at Graveyard Island, and hang
their voice there; then on
to the road of glass
[Arriving, the Gulf War]
is the first thing I remember. Bombs falling, and a gaping
hole in the wall. Sirens. A family of four,
we locked ourselves in the bathroom. The gas mask smelled
like gas, or burnt rubber,
or a language.
my mother’s salvaged wedding dress, and I learned
to speak; made up three languages to hide in
Beginnings are endings
When they reached Southwater, the war clothing
seeped into their skins and they as speechless as fish
that clog the glassroad,
fish for the souls of the dead
scraped onto the glass.
They settled by the Southwater,
walled off a city there. Called her Bell,
Third Immigration—The Strangers with Animals
They come joyfully, bringing only
their most beloved ones—a small city
guarded by white beasts in the heart of one person; another
carries a snake abjad to spell the truth
in blunt consonants. Another’s heart
protects the bird of vowels.
Shall they unlock
the larynx of love and longing, or shall they step
onto the road of molten glass?
[I was so terrified, I don’t remember]
a thing of that last journey. I’d packed
two changes of clothing (my mother had bought me
four-inch heels with her last money; I cannot
wear them, but have no other shoes).
a battered copy
of the Poetic Edda in Old Norse, Biblia
Hebraica Stuttgartensia, and Ted Hughes’ Crow.
I do not remember
how they stood—my father speaking
for the last time, or my mother—
before his stroke. I do not remember
how the plane smelled, or the long winding line
at immigration services.
In the future of me, the San Francisco Bay Bridge
circles my head like a red dragon crown.
Coda: I made three languages
to hide in. Each within
the only land I’ve ever called my own
between the waters. I am still the same
or am I? How to know
if all my journeys are translated in the skin
or am I dithering
before the road of glass?