Listening

Laura Delano’s response to the Wagner-Rogers bill, which would have relaxed quotas to allow the entrance of twenty thousand German refugee children — that ‘20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults’ — was in many ways typical of American opinion in 1939. Even watching the 933 refugee passengers on the St. Louis head back to Europe in despair after being refused entrance did not significantly alter the widely shared conviction that Jews were the least desirable addition to the melting pot.

— Elizabeth Haiken, Venus Envy

Fissioned elements like broken families, or the new
world of return — we travel and travel back, circling

the idea of home, sparring with far-flung relatives,
a home scattered into fragments, a gerrymandered vase

and the frantic haste to section it back,
solidify again. St. Elizabeth’s unlocked doors festooned

the streets with the clinically mad who, vacant of memory,
submerged into a new life of steaming grates

and, sleeping upon them, dreamt of a blanketless world.
The fire of my youth was a roar in winter deciphering

heat from wood and newspaper and a picture window
humming with snow, my family hidden upstairs.

As the ship approached the harbor they heard the horns
announcing refusal — how sound encloses silence like a shell —

then the lapping water and then the gulls who’d tracked them
for days, assured of destination, a place of refuse.

The rain-stained furniture out back of a warehouse
slowly composes itself with time until witnessed in a picture

taken on a honeymoon tour: the flash ignited the world
behind you both with shadows, and risen

from those shadows are hunched angels who cast
that darkness, bodies twisting as they rise up to leave.

The mother who cut her children from her will
answered calls from anyone.

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