Dying for America

There was a news story about a ship
caught close to the Queens shoreline.
It was some kind of beaten-up trawler,
an amphibious seventy-five Pontiac of a thing,
all rusted through and crammed
with a thousand people.

What happened next
and having made it safely all the way from China
was that the hull got broken apart on a sand-bar
and a lot of people died
while the others were rescued from the poisoned surf

When the papers had finished picking over the thing
it was just another story in the long line
of immigrants unspeaking
who have risked their lives to come to an America
impossibly different from their imaginings.

The point of this is that the Triads came to our house last night
in the person of a young Chinese man
beautifully Westernized in his gabardine* suit.
He told us that, as tenants
we’d have to leave on the day his partners closed.
Apparently they want to make the place suitable
for the official delegations who’ll be soon staying
in their newly-refurbished guest house.

He said, “It’s a Chinese kind of thing,”
and we knew right away that once they’ve split
the wooden-floored dining rooms and bedrooms
with plywood walls and put a pallet in each
the ambassadors who’ll be staying here
will be those who make it through
by boat or cargo plane
or overland, who don’t get caught, nor saved.

*For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine.” -The Merchant of Venice

[1991, Queens, New York.]