Late Afternoon, February 16, 1905by Claudia Stanek
A chorus of gulls calls the Barbarossa into the harbor. You are just one kerchiefed girl next to innumerable others, some with heads uncovered, most whose husbands bar their view. You shield your son’s fright within the fabric of your worn wool skirt. A tattered wrap, one satchel all you bring, owning little to leave in Polish fields sown for Austrian overlords. Your husband, gone before you, has prepared a place for you, the boy and the daughter offered to the ocean three days ago, the stench of her loss now overcome by the smell of unknown chemicals that punctuate your arrival. As you watch the green sea brown, factories reach their grey smoke arms for you, pulling the ship to the shore and its dense forest of brick and mortar. You uncover your son and his fear, lift him up on your hip. You both squint at your new sovereign, her torch thrusting upward above alien shadows, wondering what is written in the book she holds. Diverse tongues converge in heated relief as peoples swell onto unknown ground, you and they sick of each other’s rank continental bodies, freight to be hurriedly unloaded so New Country goods can fill the ship’s hold. The swell shoves you and your son in a surge of hunger for the land you expect to till. Your land, though you do not yet know what else must be left behind to find it. Hours more spent waiting, at last you hear repeated over and over the first words of the language you will refuse to learn. Here, you set down the boy who clings less tightly now. You hand papers to a foreigner separated from you both by a half wall and bars. He reads the symbols written on the page in German, not even your own language, though you could not have read it even if it were. You do not know what this ink will mean. This man looks down at you—you are so short—and your boy, speaks to you as his eyes examine the grey of yours. You do not respond. Your son shrugs off his fear, removes his cap and, tapping the counter to draw the man’s attention, mouths the strange sounds he would speak for you for the next seventy years. © 2006 by Claudia Stanek. All rights reserved.