Praise the Old Country Immigrants

Praise the Old Country Immigrants

I kept my hand over my heart as a Pledge
to parents from the Old Country refusing 
to scrap the foreign tongue of Italy.

I spoke for them, swaying across
a bridge of culture, interpreting
for Pa, suggesting he curse, soto voce in Campania dialect
the Bastardo though he probably was starved.
He tried to bribe the boss for Pa’s job—crane
operator picking up and plunking down
coal for the United Illuminating company. 
Depression. No streets lined with gold.

Parish priest visited with advice:
Don’t trust Jews and blacks.
Why Ma, I asked, about the homily
as her flying hands chopped fresh basil,
tomatoes lush from her Edenic garden.
She stretched dough over her palms,
layered feelings into a lasagna to comfort
our neighbor, the new widow
whose black hands opened her door to us.
Praise our capacity for communion.

On my 16th birthday, we three traveled to Ellis Island. 
Sixteen, the same age Pa crowded
into steerage on a colossal passage to America.
A freakish fall ejects him overboard. 
He emerges, rescued by unknown hands.

My camera clicked white lightning 
in praise of the Statue of Liberty’s high hand.

That seems eons ago. Tonight I finger the browning
photo. On TV, news glares,
flares human chaos and infamy.
When did the dollar-bill green Lady’s
lure to prosper in the New World turn to greed?
Can the stalwart torch ward off atrocities? 
Lady Liberty let not the huddled masses turn to ash.
Through the ocean let gray-blue swell.
Let hope gleam.

Author: Geri Radasci

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