I wrote a poem with this title a few years ago, and it qualifies for the “Failed Poem” series I started here. So here it is:
Watch the grainy films of ships
slide across the harbor, the screen.
The clichéd masses huddle to see
the Statue, New York. They come
on massive ships, all metal and steam.
I wonder if you’re ancestors are there—
See! Maybe the fifth or sixth from the left.
I am jealous because there are none for me.
No films of ships except of cows
swimming heavy and laborious for the shore,
and strange grainy photographs
of the Japanese quarantined in Paradise.
Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.
Maybe no one cared. Maybe this is right
and they are only heroes in the dark,
coming home for the first time, uncertain
that this was better than what they left,
still entertaining thoughts of going home,
of houses with tile roofs and great wooden beams.
Today’s draft is a completely new one. It’s not a rewrite, but more like a re-imagining of the poem. Maya gives the poem better perspective than me or Becky. The original was thought up while watching “The Jewish Americans” on WGBH. There seems to be so much archival footage of people coming into Ellis Island, but outside of a few photos, I haven’t seen much film of immigrants coming into Hawaii.
As I look at my children, you can see both the Japanese and Jewish sides, but you have to see them from certain angles to see both. Becky says it’s sometimes weird to see her husband and her brother from one instant to another when looking at Sam. The other day, when I was looking at the pictures of my great-grandfather with my grandfather who was a little boy then, Becky noticed the similarities in the four generations before Maya and Sam (my Dad’s face is similarly structured to his grandfather and less like his father). I resemble my father stronger when I was a boy, and Sam has some of that too although if he turns his head you’ll see none of it. Maya looks a lot like her grandmother and has a similar structure to her great- and great-great-grandmother on my mother’s side. I’ve been trying to collect stories about the family for the family tree project. It’s all very interesting to see, pictures of Japanese and Jews from the late 19th/early 20th Centuries and see how they survive in the faces of two small children.