1.

the General Muir

pulls into harbor

New York looks gray

2.

we don’t speak English

the taxi driver takes us

to the wrong town

3.

the teacher

gives me a new name

which I hate

4. 

the big girl upstairs

makes me go to a factory

and walk a plank

5.

my sister sleeps

with my grandmother

who snores

6.

I sleep shifts

with mom

and dad

7.

the electric wires

catch fire

my dad can’t put them out.

8.

a train goes past

we go really close

to feel the breeze

9.

we eat concord grapes

slippery but free

fruit-pickers pension

10.

I can’t go to Frankenstein

at the drive in

too many people faint

11.

My dad says he’s bought

a television

but it’s only a big radio

12.

we see fish in the ditch

but not the kind

you can eat

13.

at the A&P they stare

because we talk so loud

14.

my mother sews nights

at the Jolly Kid clothes factory

15.

I start to translate

the world

into English.


Citizenship Ceremony

We take the ferry to Put-in-Bay,

I’ve worn slacks despite the official form

instructing women to wear skirts.

The babies try to hang on the edges of the boat.

The mothers pull them back at the last moment.

We all watch the spray.


I sit in a row to hear the sound of patriotism,

although the military planes are late taking off,

so we have to imagine them

encouraging us with their potential of bombs.

I will swear now to have nothing more to do with “foreign potentates,”

as will the women from Nigeria,

the couple from Mexico,

the Pakistani man.


Afterwards a woman from Germany runs up

to talk in that language

and I try to tell her I’m not really German.

But she still follows me up the lighthouse steps

to see the lake stretched out before us.


Later we dip our feet in the water,

buy some ice cream,

and I swear to myself

that I am not what they tell me.

And what, really, is a potentate?



Mississippi

I don’t know how

they ended up picking cotton

in Mississippi,

but they did.


My immigrant grandparents,

post WWII refugees,

lived for two years among scorpions

on a failed plantation.


It must have felt like serfdom again.

Their homestead abandoned,

only a cow left behind

and a stepmother.


Stepping into these shoes,

this land of promise,

must have been a shock.


Democracy’s promise

on hold,

my grandfather already seventy,

leaving behind his telephone,

the very first in the neighborhood.


Leaving his language,

never to pass beyond “Hello,”

not even memorizing “I don’t understand,”

he smiled into his tobacco pipe.


And he made us all close our eyes

when he chopped the heads

from the chickens.


Skaidrite Stelzer is a citizen of the world whose poetry has appeared in Glass, Struggle, The Baltimore Review, Storm Cellar, and other journals. Her chapbook, Digging a Moose from the Snow, is recently published by Finishing Line Press. She enjoys watching cloud shapes.