We are all carrying empathy and sympathy for everyone broken by the vicious treatment of those of us who carry the misapplied label “illegal immigrant.” For instance, close by here a beloved family’s door was broken down, an undocumented worker arrested, and the family torn apart, four young daughters and their parents traumatized forever.
My father’s family came from Bohemia. Ridl should be spelled Hridl, but we became Americans on Ellis Island at a time when renaming was a matter of course. Through the world of my grandfather I hope this week’s poem respects and affirms our immigrant companions, and I trust in one way or another many of your relatives, too.
It was a joy this week to learn from dear former student and art therapist Maggie Machledt that Parker Palmer’s column at Krista Tippett’s “On Being” website featured this week’s poem. Coincidences like this never fail to astonish me.
Palmer has been a restorer of souls for so many of us, as well as a man who has sustained our ways of being in teaching, spiritual communities, the arts, compassionate relationships, and the ways we walk through our days.
This poem will also appear in an important, new anthology: Immigration & Justice for Our Neighbors edited by Jennifer Clark and Miriam Downey.
My thanks to Maggie, Parker Palmer, Krista Tippett, and to you who, knowing it or not, have an abiding friend in Palmer.
PS. It’s time I remind one and all (and put in tiny words my gratitude) that this project could never happen each week without Julie’s loving expertise and affirmation.
My grandfather grew up holding rags,
pounding his fist into the pocket
of a ball glove, gripping a plumb line
for his father who built what anyone
needed. At sixteen, wanting to work on
his own, he lied about his age
and for forty-nine years carried his lunch
to the assembly line where he stood
tightening bolts on air brake after
air brake along the monotonous belt.
I once asked him how he did that all
those years. He looked at me, said,
“I don’t understand. It was only
eight hours a day,” then closed
his fists. Every night after dinner
and a pilsner, he worked some more.
In the summer, he’d turn the clay,
grow tomatoes, turnips, peas,
and potatoes behind borders
of bluebells and English daisies,
and marigolds to keep away the rabbits.
When the weather turned to frost,
he went to the basement where,
until the seeds came in March,
he made perfect picture frames, each
glistening with layers of sweet shellac.
His hands were never bored. Even
in his last years, arthritis locking every
knuckle, he sat in the kitchen carving
wooden houses you could set on a shelf,
one after another, each one different.
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