Twelve Facts About the Immigrants: A Prose Poem
by Carmine Sarracino, from The Idea of the Ordinary
They were not Italiani, but rather Calabresi, Siciliani, Napolitani, Abruzzesi and would remain so until they died in places like Providence, Rhode Island and Hershey, Pennsylvania.
They thought that “Italia” was the name of the King of Piedmont’s daughter.
They did not believe that they’d find the streets of America full of money, but enjoyed saying so to those staying behind.
The men knew how to cut stone, how to lay bricks, how to fish, how to coax fruits and vegetables from rocky soil, how to strike fear into the hearts of oppressors.
The women knew how to cook, how to keep house, how to raise children, how to coax fruits and vegetables from rocky soil, how to strike fear into the hearts of husbands.
Their name for Ellis Island was La isla d’lacrime, “The island of tears.”
They began life in the new world shunted through chutes from holding pens to processing stations on the modern model of efficiently slaughtering livestock.
Their coats were pinned with tags, they were given papers, asked for the papers, the papers were stamped, they were asked for the stamped papers, the stamped papers were exchanged for new papers, they were asked for the new papers, the new papers were stamped and the tags on their coats were exchanged for new tags.
Some with bad eyesight, pinkeye, or glaucoma were chalked with an “X” and shunted to a pen to be shipped back.
Others, baffled by the question “Are you an anarchist?” went with the more agreeable answer, and then wondered why they were marked with an “X” and shunted to a pen with the blind.
They believed with all their hearts in the pursuit of happiness, and had pursued it all the way to this maze of chutes.
On the boats with kerchiefs around their faces and caps with the earflaps pulled down waving tiny American flags and smiling with slightly bewildered eyes, they all looked just like children.