Sunlight through leaves throws dappled shadows on the wall;
the telephone sighs to rest in its cradle, shifts to get comfortable;
fish defrosts on the work-top, drips pensively onto the plate;
the cat turns, skirts an unseen obstacle, starts to wash its ears;
I call a rushed good-bye while thinking of something else:
the un-hung washing, un-paid bill, un-lived dream,
the headlights which raked the ceiling of my childhood room.
Ellis Island, New York
We grip the frozen handrail of the ferry,
watch the waters churn their silver song.
The seagulls teach their young to ride
the wind, hover at head-height, hoping
for scraps, catching them in flight, tasting
anticipation in this welcome-harbour’s air.
Now just us tourists, seeing once-removed
through camera’s lens, knowing how memory
can trick and lie. But every immigrant is here
behind our eyes, dressed in their desperation
and their optimism; watching the raised arm
of liberty (her face the sculptor¹s mother’s
who better to open the door to this new home?)
They search the faces for a hint of those left behind:
see how she flicks her hair, the set of his
shoulders, tap of her fingers, curve of his head.
The boat hull bumps and tears at wooden piers
of Ellis Island, they clutch the rails, fling
their old life to the tide, climb gang-plank
to a land which seems to roll and heave,
lift ashore their bundled clothes and words
the recipes and songs, tucking them close
as gold coins sewn into the hems of petticoats
wrapped with memories like an old woollen shawl.
The shock of the impossible. It folds!
That strident, swirling, screaming metal
folds like obedient fabric, fitting lorry
like a foot within a shoe. A carousel,
a chair-swing, ghost-train, tunnel
of love, each neatly telescoped
onto the back of gaily painted truck;
so memory folds and wraps the past
its long and lovely pocketed moments.
Maggie Butt is an ex-journalist and BBC TV documentary film maker turned poet. Her poems have been widely published in magazines and escaped the page onto Radio 4, readings, e-zines, festivals and schools. She is the judge of Ver Poets competition 2008. Her day job is Head of the Media department at Middlesex University where she has been teaching Creative Writing since 1990. Her poetry pamphlet Quintana Roo was published by Acumen in 2003 and her collection Lipstick was published in March 2007 by Greenwich Exchange. It was chosen as the Poetrykit book of the month December 2007/ January 2008.