President Roosevelt, touring Ellis Island
in 1906, watched the people from steerage
line up for their six-second physical.
Might not, he wondered aloud, the ungloved handling
of aliens who were ill infect the healthy?
Yet for years more it was done. I imagine
my grandmother, a girl in that Great Hall’s
polyglot, reverberating vault
more terrible than church, dazed by the stars
and stripes in the vast banner up in front
where the blessed ones had passed through. Then she did too,
to a room like a little chapel, where her mother
might take Communion. A man in a blue cap
and a blue uniform—a doctor? a policeman?
(Papa would have known, but he had sailed
all alone before them and was waiting
now in New York; yet wasn’t this New York?)—
a man in a blue cap reached for her mother.
Without a word (didn’t he speak Italian?)
he stuck one finger into her mother’s eye,
then turned its lid up with a buttonhook,
the long, curved thing for doing up your boots
when buttons were too many or too small.
You couldn’t be American if you were blind
or going to be blind. That much she understood.
She’d go to school, she’d learn to read and write
and teach her parents. The eye man reached to touch
her own face next; she figured she was ready.
She felt big, like that woman in the sea
holding up not a buttonhook but a torch.
Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Salter. Used with permission of the author.
then when they offered something
of command, the night
received them to confirm
a change of season. they were not
standing on the earth, or
they remembered that the fields of rice
would not harvest them, people
of the ashes. their directions
would not receive the ancient winds
or the doorway to the past
brought them firmly to the soil. they were often
by number, and they were once
attached to the after years
of service. they did not
as their words
would not serve the ashes. and they once
had their memories
grown for the fields
of their pockets. no one
after they moved
on the soil
through the oceans
Copyright © 2015 by Roberto Harrison . Used with permission of the author.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.