Reading by the author

it might have been
a menacing sky that greeted him
in new york
in 1938.

if it spoke in english
he did not understand.
his tongue was
polish. he didn’t stop
at go but high-tailed it
to chicago.

his brother had just moved there.
on the train
the other passengers
might have remarked
on his thick, dark hair
& his poet’s eyes.
they might have talked
about his leaving,
about the war. it was rumbling
and thundering.
they overtook cities
as the fields passed by
in the new country.
they might have said
that he’d have been dead
if he had stayed—
a rush of smoke
as the train creaked to a stop,
the conductor yelling

later he would decide to americanize
his name. dangerous
to keep the polish
surname, with a j
in the middle.
nie tutaj,
no hebrew,
no polish spoken here—
lo po.
to live in america
one ought to act like it.

and was the statue
of liberty his own to claim—
the words that lazarus wrote?
is this a world where jewish words can breathe?

the train started moving
slowly. he saw
the city by the distant lake,
the tall buildings
so unlike the shtetl.
he thought, away from foreign boots
and anxious neighbors
and preludes of war,
the sky is blue.

Poet's Note

I hesitate to say that I have a style because I think that it is constantly evolving. However, in a narrative poem like this, I wanted to make it sound like the speaker’s inner thoughts. We don’t have a filter on our thoughts. They often race by, as fast as it must feel when you're literally running for your life. I chose lowercase because I imagined a lump in the speaker’s throat with a tentativeness reserved for the unsure and the scared. This poem was a matter close to my heart because over the COVID-19 period, I have been doing a great deal of family research. For this family member’s story, as he barely escaped to the United States, I imagined what he was thinking, and I knew I had to put pen to paper. Or rather, key to computer.