Ellis Island 1899
First they took the vowels of our names
& the onions & rye we kept in our pockets.
We had to sound normal, smell normal,
& not look back across the ocean.
These requisites achieved, they sorted us
in rooms with worn wooden walls
where nurses peeled the lice from our heads
with long metal instruments unknown
in the old land. Then we fumbled through
our purses for numbers & streets, names
they’d also changed. They gave my boy
a coloring book & crayons left behind,
& my girl a doll with American hair.
Their precision abrupt & peculiar, robotic,
they gave us toothbrushes & frowned
when my brother lit a cigarette. Two hours
till the Baltimore train, a woman said,
then disappeared through a doorway
where the coffee was hot & the Americans
read newspapers. We were just a day
to them, a noisy procedure of paperwork
& information, cross-checks & referrals.
None knew about Hancock County,
though I had maps & twenty-seven dollars,
a picture of the Pope & a picture of a house.
I’d practiced the words so long: My husband
is a miner & he’s waiting. My husband’s name…
but I was crying & the world turned futile
& everywhere the sky was snow & rain.
He had a name, my husband, golden eyes
& a pocketwatch made in Bratislava
with my initials carved into it.
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.