To The Great Grandmothers
How did you take that first step
through the doorway of prosperity
into teeming gray Manhattan ?
From small villages,
and homely neighborhoods,
you voyaged to the gates of Babylon,
stepped outside of history, sailed away
from bustling Holland waterways
lined with leaning narrow houses,
turned your back on windmills
turning in slow motion,
Left the grit and bustle of Glasgow,
the smoky Staffordshire potteries,
lyric Dublin with its bicycles and pub signs,
windows full of curtain lace
reflecting narrow cobbled streets.
You made a clean break,
hearts beating a new cadence,
you marched into an adventure,
bearing talismans from home
full of prayers and promise.
And you were immortal saying goodbye –
like a bride made light by eagerness, and bravery,
ready to be swept across the threshold of mystery.
Then it must have been with sober feet
that you first planted yourselves
on United States firmament,
cast your lot in with all the rest,
tossed over in great waves,
as you were by the cold Atlantic.
And in the streets moving through
fields of faces, their patterns
intricate as Delft ware,
Royal Dalton, Limerick lace,
listening hard for a quiet space,
a familiar word in the din,
every inch of the air
and turf of the place
raucous with activity.
I wonder how your hearts
endured it: the dragon
and the labyrinth of New York,
whether poems or nightmares
danced inside your heads.
I picture your faces a little gray
from the shock of it all,
frozen, still as a photograph,
caught in a flash of insight:
in this enormous marketplace,
you would never be more than small change.