The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday and Ellis Island

A Tourist at Ellis Island
By Linda Pastan

I found him, Jankel Olenik,
age 3, on the manifest
of the ship Spaarndam
in 1902-my surgeon father
Jack, of the silk ties
and trimmed mustache
who never mentioned
the life he once inhabited
not just in a different language

but in a different book,
its pages yellowed at the edges.
He thrust me into the new world
scrubbed clean of peasant dirt,
whole chapters of my history
torn out. Failed
archeologist of memory,
I never asked
a single question.


My entire family had a snow day today, though we got less than an inch of snow; instead we had ice coating what little snow we did get, which froze our van tires in place and made it very difficult to shovel until it started to warm up late in the morning. My kids had no school; Paul worked from home (since he had several phone conferences, he took over the kitchen table and everyone but Daisy left him alone); I had an early doctor's appointment that I postponed. Adam went sledding with friends in the morning, then my father took both kids out to lunch while I did laundry and ate with Paul. Adam forgot to come back from playing with a friend in time for tennis, but not much I can do about that now.

After two days away, I managed to read the news. RIP Susannah York and Sargent Shriver, not to mention net neutrality. I hear that Pluto may become a planet again. I feel like I must have missed Ricky Gervais' best lines at the Golden Globes because I wasn't violently offended by him -- more bored, really, but I might have been distracted by Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Colin Firth all sitting close enough to play footsie. I made the mistake of reading what Sarah Palin said, but Jon Stewart has just deconstructed her vitriol for me, so I feel better. We had dinner with my parents and caught up on Downton Abbey, and I can't think what else I meant to post about, so I am going to bed!

The administrative buildings of Ellis Island, the site of the biggest inspection station during the peak years of U.S. immigration.

This is the Registry Room. At one time it looked as it does here, with thousands of people crowded inside.

This room was once where witnesses waited to testify before a board of inquiry on behalf of immigrant relatives. Beneath the current walls are fragments of graffiti like this.

From an exhibit of items brought by immigrants from their old countries to the U.S., a pillowcase made from silk rectangles that came in cigarette packages.

An inspection card from a ship from Copenhagen naming a passenger who traveled in steerage to emigrate to the U.S.

This is the view forward from beside the ferry as it docks at Ellis Island...

...and this is the view of the tops of the buildings from the ferry, with Liberty Island further off.

Here is my family on Ellis Island with Manhattan across the bay.

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