A Sestina

I said no man's an island
but you didn't let me finish,
leaning over the side of the ferry
while I was left to translate
the schedules, our visit already cut
short by long lines at customs.

I don't feel at home within the customs
of New York City, so we went to Ellis Island,
but in our misreading of times we cut
it close for boarding, a photo finish.
I jot, on this boarding stub of Airtran's, late
return trips of the Liberty Island ferry.

In sepia faces, I see the burden to ferry
heart-held and sea-separated customs
to a new world, and how to translate
them for those born new on this island.
I see the names, Swedish and Finnish,
of immigrant ancestors who made the cut.

My fingers stretch to stroke the cut-
out blue and yellow woven hearts, fairy-
translucent and fading behind the smudged finish
of display cabinets. Printed cards explain customs
unknown to those raised in an island
of ignorance and apathy, no one left to translate.

I need no one to translate
your impatience. The minced cut
of your words, your gaze fixed off the island,
ready to catch the soonest ferry
and check off the next item, your customs
of touring being not to participate but to finish.

But I want to know their life from start to finish,
more than the paltry way it ran — slate
tablets with names and dates, customary
and bare facts of existence, cut
into our stone and grass and soul, a fairly
stark representation of their time in this land.

Because on that unknown island at the finish,
when Charon's ferry comes and we too are translated,
my misconceptions cut, we'll rest together in new customs.


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