From “The Minstrel of Belmont”: “Immigrant Pictures”

“Immigrant Pictures” is actually the second or third version of this idea. We’ll see another example of this in the Hanami section later. In my writing process, I often let ideas come back to me. I’ll write an S-draft and work it a bit, but if I’m not feeling it, I’ll abandon it. In many cases, the idea just dies, not actually having been a fully formed idea for a poem or essay or story. When I was younger, this bothered me, but as I got older, it felt right because works that emerged were better.

This poem started off as an idea when I was watching The Jewish Americans on PBS with my wife and saw the grainy movies of ships coming into New York Harbor. They reminded me of pictures and movies of ships coming into Hawaii, with cows swimming ashore. Seeing these people in motion, our immigrant ancestors coming to America was a kind of odd experience. A reminder that they were once alive and vibrant.

As time went on, I started a family tree project. This was something I started when Maya was born. And for that project, I collected digital versions of pictures of our actual (mine and my wife’s) ancestors. As she grew older, we’d look at these pictures together. This version of the poem talks about that as opposed to the original version that talked about movies of strangers.


With Maya on my lap
we look at
the immigrant pictures,
her great-great-
black and white shadows
she’ll only understand
relaxing her eyes
relaxing her mind
until the line of a cheek
the slope of a nose
the arc of an eye
in the mirror
reflect echoes,
voiceless echoes,
from a hundred years ago.

These grainy reminders
of someone who
once stared
into the unblinking glass eye
of the future.
Was that when
you and I were
nowhere? she asks,
still coming to grips
with life and death,
beginnings and endings
as I struggle
to resurrect
the lines and curves
they worried
would pass out of time
that I tuck
into stories and faces
illustrating a story
I make up
as I go along.

“Immigrant Pictures” was written during the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge and published in The Minstrel of Belmont by Finishing Line Press.


This entry was posted in Creative Writing, Hanami, Minstrel of Belmont, Poetry, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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