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Citizens of Nowhere

We journeyed across expansive seas,

JewishAmerImmigrantboat-200

across a vastness between continents.

The East--wicked, hateful--demanding that we leave

(glad to see us go).

The West--kind, full of love--asking that we come

(glad to see us stay).

The East--the land of death and carnage

with streets paved in blood.

The West--the land of milk and honey

with streets paved in gold.

We sailed in steerage,

not good enough for the upper decks--

second-class citizens of nowhere,

cramped in dark and dank quarters

with empty stomachs and hot tempers.

All of us eager, anxious for The Promised Land.

One early morning

through the mists and fog

we spot her.

With broken shackles at her feet,

she smiles as if to say,

"Yes, you are welcome."

But we do not formally meet.

We sail, instead, right past her--

to a second island before we get to the third.

We land and form lines.

We cannot keep our true names.

They look into our eyes and check our mouths--

like horses on the auction block.

How much do we have? they ask us.

Are we worthy? Can we support ourselves?

Are we here to make trouble?

Anarchists, perhaps!

Abba worries!

We sleep in litters stacked three deep--

like the lower decks of a Middle Passage ship.

We must stay in an imposing red-brick edifice

whose walls seem, at once, to close us in

and squeeze us out.

And Ima cries!

Nana is so old.

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Her heart is no longer as strong as her spirit.

They have taken her away--we may not see her

so we wait.

Momma says she will not come back.

Poppa is not so sure.

My brother holds onto my skirts.

I must take care of him.

They have translators for us

but it is still hard to understand.

It is a hard tongue to master.

My brother is afraid.

I try to reassure him, answer his questions:

How will we make friends?

And what about school?

And our future?

What can I tell him

when I, myself, don't know?

I learn too soon that forward journeys

sometimes turn back or crisscross--

that there are dead ends

and not all streets are straight.

I learn too soon

that honey can be bitter

and milk can be sour--

that streets can be uneven

and that it is we

who will have to pave them.

But Grandma's work is done.

She brought us through the door

and opened it--

then pushed us through

but dear Grandma stayed behind--

perhaps to keep the Lady company.

And now when I look up at her,

a woman within a Woman looks back and smiles!

And I know the rest is up to me:

for me there is responsibility

for me there is no pity

for me I will be free

when I am free!

Rosemary Jenkins