Somewhere on Ellis Island
my mother’s mother lost the shawl
the women of the town crocheted for her
out of mauves and purples,
old tunes twisted in the strands,
and clever plots
woven, woven in the pattern.
It was a gift.
Away from that shawl
my mother’s mother had to move,
toward the waiting train, toward Minnesota,
through the smell of gasoline,
through the sycamores
whose leaves clinked down
like foreign coins.
She tripped over
a broken step, caught herself,
steadied her canvas bag, paid
her money, wrote her name on the form, washed
in communal showers, put on
her skirt with its stubborn hem. When
they opened the wire gate, she bowed
and hoisted the bag higher
to step over the threshold
into the calling distance
where the years stretched out
plain as good dirt
and she began to imagine
the calamity and extreme grace
of someone wearing that mauve shawl
till every night in dreams
she chopped it,
burned it, and
when it rose again,
she buried it.
She spent every minute
chasing the furious rooster, dropping
report cards into her apron pocket, bargaining
in zero weather,
forgetting that old grace,
finally carrying
her children’s
children on her hip,
while she stirred the soup,
their breath soft as moss,
their tiny feet stuttering against her.
My feet, my breath.
She bore my mother like a speck toward me
as I bear you in this plain dress
towards your own children,
holding in my empty hands her glorious shawl,
sunrise over Ellis Island.