Jan. 5, 2004

Twelve Facts About the Immigrants: A Prose Poem

by Carmine Sarracino

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Poem: Twelve Facts About the Immigrants: A Prose Poem," by Carmine Sarracino, from The Idea of the Ordinary (Orchises).

Twelve Facts About the Immigrants: A Prose Poem

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, Penn-

They thought that "Italia" was the name of the King of Pied-
mont'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

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet W. D. Snodgrass, born in Wilkinsberg, Pennsylvania (1926). He's the author of the collections Heart's Needle (1959), and The Fuhrer Bunker (1977).

It's the birthday of Umberto Eco, born in the Piedmont region of Italy (1932). He's a professor at the University of Bologna, and the author of the novels The Name of the Rose (1981), and Foucault's Pendulum (1989). He once said that he knows there are sections of his books that people skip, but that it is important that they are there: "Think of the penultimate chapter of Ulysses, in which Joyce just describes Bloom's entire kitchen, every drawer. Sometimes I happen to go back and read a drawer. The first time I read it, what was impressive and important was this ideal of describing everything--everything!"

It's the birthday of Stephen Cole Kleene, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1909). He helped to develop recursion theory, a field of mathematics that determines whether or not a mathematical problem can actually be solved, and whether a computer can be used to solve it.

It's the birthday of the playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt, born in Konelfingen, Switzerland (1921). He's the author of The Visit (1956), and The Physicists (1962).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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