Brooklyn, In Memory Most Green, memoir … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

Brooklyn Bridge, looking west from Brooklyn, July 1899


The courageous immigrants of the elder generations cast the shards of their hopes and dreams across the landscape of this continent as prophecy. They worked hard and long for their visions. These people included my Lebanese maternal grandparents with their first-born children. They arrived in New York in 1897 on a boat from Syria. They petitioned for citizenship in 1925. Included also was my Turkish father who arrived here alone in 1919. He was just seventeen, eager to make good and to earn dowries for his four older sisters. The distaff side eventually settled in Brooklyn. That’s where they were when I was born and that’s where I was raised.

These were people who came to America in “the days of sail,” as the great New York writer, Irish-American Pete Hamill, would say. Today’s immigrants can and often easily do visit their countries of origin. They connect with their families and their linguistic and cultural roots. This was something that was generally not available to the people of my grandparent’s generation and before. Among the many reasons for this was an often crushing poverty. In Ireland “American wakes” were held for the sons and daughters who left for the United States. Heart-shattered parents knew it was unlikely they’d ever see their children again.

The immigrants I knew growing up worked hard. The immigrants that I know today work hard, often holding more than one job. They make real – though generally quiet – contributions to their communities, work places and their new country. They serve in the military. They make sure their children are educated.

Because of parents and grandparents who were resourceful and brave enough to come to this country, we had as children, not just economic opportunity, but a wealth of artistic and educational resources. On occasion we went, for example, to the Leonard Bernstein‘s Young People’s Concerts at the New York Philharmonic. I remember Mr. Bernstein with his charming and contagious enthusiasm calling our imaginations to Peter and the Wolf. We didn’t have to travel far to have access to talents like Mr. Bernstein or to visit museums, cathedrals, art galleries, music venues, theater (movies and stage), parks and so much more. It was all right there, ready to be plucked and savored like so many sweet and juicy summer plums.

Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World (1886) by Edward Moran. Oil on canvas. The J. Clarence Davies Collection, Museum of the City of New York. (Public Domain)

The schools were good, whether public or private. The libraries were ubiquitous. I will ever and always be in love with the Hudson River and the incredibly beautiful and historic Brooklyn Bridge. To my child-self, everything was magical, mystical, mythological and monolithic. Brooklyn’s proximity to Manhattan added to my enchantment. The Cloisters. Central Park. The magnificent Statue of Liberty, symbol of our highest ideal.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

I’m sure that had I been born in the mountains of Lebanon or in rural Turkey, these places would have offered their own joys and charms but I’m grateful for my Brooklyn, New York experience.

I too lived – Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Leaves of Grass

With a nod to Isaac Asimov for the post title.
.
© 2009, text, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Originally published in “Brooklyn.” Photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum and likely in the public domain. 

WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT

This week’s prompt is “immigration.” Write in prose (up to 750 words) or poem about your experience or observation. Your work doesn’t have to be about immigration to the US. It can address or illustrate the refugee experience if you prefer.

There are so many on the move – and on the run – right now, historic numbers, and the world is fraught with anger and meanness on this topic. It seems a good subject to tackle through Wednesday Writing Prompt, though please know that I won’t publish and will delete anything encouraging of violence or hate.

Leave your prose or poem/s or a link to them in the comments section below. All work shared on theme will be published here next Tuesday. If it’s your first time coming out to play for Wednesday Writing Prompt, please send a short bio in the body of an email and a photo of yourself as an attachment to thepoetbyday@gmail.com for use as an introduction. You have until Monday evening, 8:30 p.m. PST, to respond to the prompt. You are welcome – encouraged – to join in no matter the status of your career: novice, emerging or pro.


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY

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30 thoughts on “Brooklyn, In Memory Most Green, memoir … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

  1. Hi Jamie,
    I’ve been so pressed for time and was so moved to respond to such a good prompt. My “work in progress” is below. I am half Armenian, my father the son of Armenians who escaped the 1915 genocide. I grew up singing the Irvin Berlin version of “Give me your tired” as a child in school choir and loved the song–it touched my heart deeply. Only now have I revisited that time, and it brought about so many thoughts. I think I have many more than one poem in me on this subject. And this one is a rough one, but I wanted to participate. Thanks for the richness of this prompt and I look forward to capturing moments this week to read the other poems submitted. Thank you, Lisa
    PS, the second lines of each couplet are meant to be in italics, as is the Emma Lazarus quote but I don’t know how to do it here. 🙂

    Reluctant Immigrant

    “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” ~Emma Lazarus

    Plaintive song sung in childhood, beloved melody that touched my heart,
    Often tired, sometimes wretched, always poor, though not homeless

    Before I understood the words, I knew the yearning
    to belong, to fit in, to be accepted—we were outsiders

    Immigrated to the west, escaped, searching for a better life
    I left family behind, severed ties for years, survived

    He was forced to flee the genocide, board the boat,
    Fighting his friends to go to his wife and child, already dead, they said

    Landed in New York, no English, cooked for men like him in the hostel
    Once a proud Armenian, now a conquered, bereft, shamed man

    Reluctant immigrant to a strange land, mourning his home, far away
    Arranged second marriage, nine children born on a farm, a life lived, survived

    Trauma lived and re-lived, DNA passed down the generations, his story lost
    No golden doors for him, just a desire to blend in…and forget

    Grandfather to father, father to daughter, I stop the cycle of abuse
    Exiles that no God, no Lady Liberty could return home, sheltered here

    Safe now, loved, loving others, a good life carved out of pain and shame
    He survived that 1915 holocaust, I am, we are, his legacy, immigrants yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the last poem I will submit for this prompt. It explains why we should welcome the stranger in our midst (because we can never know from whence comes our salvation):

    “On a Passage from the Mishna”
    (Raanana, November 17, 2017)

    It is written that whoever saves a life
    It’s as though he saved a world
    And whoever snuffs out a life
    It’s as though he snuffed out a world,
    And why is that?
    It’s because that when we walk
    We walk with an entire world in front of us
    And we walk with a whole world behind us
    On either side of us
    Above and below us
    So we are six worlds saved or destroyed
    And who can know from whence will come the savior
    How he’ll look or what he’ll do,
    So whoever saves a life
    It’s as though he saved himself
    And whoever kills a life
    It’s as though he killed himself.

    Note:
    The fourth chapter of the Mishnaic tractate of Sanhedrin “whoever destroys a single life … is considered … to have destroyed the whole world and whoever saves a single life … is considered … to have saved the whole world” sometime prior to 250 A.D.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This one is about an immigrant I know:

    “A Visitor”
    (Raanana, January 10, 2018)

    A multiplication table,
    Two times two is four,
    She could read a multiplication table
    And you’d swear it was poetry
    But when she’d read you her own poem
    It’d sound like her skin was torn from her soul,
    Like she’d invented meaning in your mind.
    She was a visitor,
    She didn’t come from here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Call of the Whippoorwill”
    (Raanana, January 30, 2018)

    O Whippoorwill, O Whippoorwill,
    I alone do hear your plaint.
    It comes from deep inside my breast,
    Would that I could let it out
    To fly free singing,
    But no such birds exist here
    In the promised land.

    Note: This poem expresses how I often feel as an American-expat-Israeli-immigrant in Israel.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “The Old Colossus”
    ((an alternate plaque for our Statue of Liberty))
    (Raanana, February 16, 2018)

    What have I done
    What
    have
    I
    done
    to warrant these insults and injuries
    to our once rich lands,
    our once free skies,
    and our once clear waters?
    You’ve stripped me of my soil,
    you’ve fouled my air,
    and you’ve diverted and poisoned my waters.
    Have you found another land,
    another sky,
    or another water to love?
    Or have you no soul anymore
    to love any land,
    any sky,
    or any lake or river?
    Take what you will from me
    then leave me alone
    and I will recover without you
    but what will you do without me?
    What
    will you
    do without
    me?

    [Note: This poem is addressed, not to fresh-off-the-boat-or-plane immigrants, but to those who have forgotten that they immigrants and take their country for granted.]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Jamie,
    I loved this writing prompt. Every word of it resonated with me. I’m both a third-generation American and a first-generation Israeli. My immediate roots are English-Scotch-Irish and Russian but we are all immigrants who came from Africa, our Mother Land. We come from all men/women and our descendants will go to all men/women. We are so lucky to be immigrants and to remember our roots. It confers on us a huge advantage, like being able to speak two or more languages. Being an ex-pat American in Israel means, when I fly to the States, I leave home (in Israel) and arrive home (in the USA). You captured the hearts of all immigrants with your words and images. Being an immigrant, though, doesn’t mean you see your adopted motherland only through rose-colored glasses and all is great when it isn’t so great. Sometimes, when you love something so much and you see it coming to harm, you lash out at the thing harming it and protect what is innocent and good in your country with your own body and soul. Now that I’ve said my piece, I’ll add some of my poems that I think might be relevant responses to your wonderful prompt.
    Most sincerely,
    Mike Stone

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mike. Of course, any place is only as perfect as the humans inhabiting it and none of us is perfect. You would have to know my personal history – and you might have to know Brooklyn – to undersand my passion. We all know the dirty underbelly of Brookyn thanks to Hubert Selby, Jr. His world was in my peripheral vision but wasn’t a part of my life.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Some very interesting and thought filled writes here. I always like to hear of your family. I do believe you are the only person I know from Lebanon. I love to meet people from other countries. I am so diverse it is difficult to write on any one as even though seven, they are all melded into who I am. Will sigh a lease soon and am still finishing packing to move forward. Hope you are well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Jamie,

    Here’s my third:

    Our Edge

    Each time it is a border,
    an end of the road,
    a new building,
    where I am asked same questions
    “What’s your name?
    Where are you going?
    Why?”

    I am discovering my story,
    remembering where I have
    been, but I recall it as
    a
    border,
    an end of the road,
    a new building,
    where I am asked same questions
    “What’s your name?
    Where are you going?
    Why?”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Jamie,

    Here’s my second:

    Refugees Rule Each

    Nation. The seat of power
    is one that must travel.

    If it was to ever stop
    the populace would revolt.

    Folk who stay in one place
    are a public nuisance

    who don’t get rid of their own
    trash, who have a reputation

    as thieves from the greater majority
    who are travellers. Stayers

    Put pressure on others as they insist
    on a place to put down roots,

    occupy a piece of land when all
    land is in common to be used by all.

    Stayers cordon off land with fences
    which restrict travel and onward journey.

    From “A World Where” (Nixes Mate Press, 2017)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Jamie,

    Here is my first response:

    Refugee

    is good. To belong
    is wrong. Be homeless.

    Mortgages and rents are chains.
    Tread the world without burden.

    Find a banquet in a crumb.
    A glassful in a droplet.

    Warmth in a newspaper blanket.
    Comfort is a concrete underpass.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Finally, finally…..

    . another country .

    grandma came from malta, or was it

    gibraltar, anyhow dad was very dark.

    his hair remained so, with help and support.

    i came from england to live here with you

    #thebear.

    also from another country.

    i hear there is trouble in the village.

    yes. i am scared they will shout

    and say go home.

    another country.

    sbm.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Finally…..

    . the questionaire .

    is this a mill, or is it a shop,
    is it both, when did the looms stop?

    twenty years now sir, yet you can see some
    working elsewhere.

    shall i write it down, all the pattern,
    and most of the history? it has different fibres,
    yet mainly wool in it.

    these are made in yorkshire, the bags are italian,
    yet i am from wales, an immigrant they say, yet we
    are all from another place originally.

    we came from the sea.

    so let us move things about.

    cloth by cloth.

    sbm.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thirdly….

    .shopping in town.

    wednesday, the shops shut early.

    here.

    there are still tourists around.

    or new people. i bought some sweets,
    a thimble,a packet of screws, one
    light bulb.

    chatted about face book in the mongers.

    i moved here in 1993. I am an immigrant.

    sbm.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you Jamie. My first reaction…..

    .. wouldst thou be pm, an abbreviation..

    archaic or dialect question, in appropriate. a lowly start

    with slight misgivings, i come arrived from the country, an immigrant

    here.

    if the task came to me unlikely, i should sew profusely. a safe bet in that

    something grows decently.

    do you know how to stitch a lie, when all about grow honesty? mine was

    white last year,

    now nothing germinates.

    the question is irreverent, no disrespect meant. forgive me, this is the second

    time. this time,

    i shall stay.

    despite my nationality.

    sbm.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Dear Jamie
    My response to the prompt …Born in Srinagar Kashmir, migrated to adopted country Pakistan in 1950 with my mother and sister..travelling in a refugee convoy, escorted by soldiers crossed the border at Sialkot.

    Title: Partition
    (Inspired by T S Eliot )

    August is the cruelest month, bare branches
    Sprouting tiny greens,
    life bursting from the lifeless,
    A rising,
    mixing sorrow of defeat with defiance,
    Spring rain drizzles consistently,
    snow suddenly surprised us
    We stopped in the plains,
    leaving the mountains’
    Went in half daylight so we should have
    Known the path,
    and the unknown traversed rarely,
    So we should have known the faith,
    and the faithful and the Emperors of Ice creams-
    Not long ago, when I was a child,
    was carried across borders
    frightened, slept in a camp for two nights,
    -wonder how Mother felt? She never spoke
    About those days, then on we
    came to Murree Hills, and felt free
    And I knew not, was I taking refuge or was it a
    New land?
    What was left in enemy hands, where
    Are the roots that make a family?
    Out of the masses who survived who committed
    Suicide-you cannot say or guess even for you
    Have seen only images and heard only broken voices
    Who lost half the thought in trying to forget
    Spoke not all-scenes of horror
    Heaps of bodies cut and slayed
    Blood splattered on trains roads and fields
    Death, for a cause? Yet not so or was it?
    Many went South, separated, lost, confused-
    All said ‘we shall go back, one day’
    The Day never came-
    And then the beginning of the end-
    One by one
    Who has seen Spring again, after the Fall
    Providence persists prevails
    Acceptance and non-acceptance is, what ails
    Unreal cities, unreal people, so unlike what
    Was expected-
    War War War and again War-
    When will it end, fear strikes within
    Shelter is scarce, fashion abounds and all
    Is a show off! Young dead glorified
    on the mini screen, what are they dying for
    now? Half the barren land, minerals in ranges
    The enemy changed and we thought ’this is Right-
    People crowd the roads , daily beggars are children
    And who said ‘we shall have enough, and peace”
    Mountains and Rocks
    Mountains are dangerous, no rocks will give
    Shelter, there is no water, nor wells
    A waste it becomes, filth in the drains overflowing
    And the big man’ said’ we have worked hard’
    But the mountains will not protect,
    Truth is linked , Faith is strong
    It will not be long when the Shadow
    Will turn to Light and the darkness will go-
    Go in the shadow of the mountain
    Sit by the stream and clean all
    The mind and soul, wash away to the sea
    Impurity, or else be prepared to face,
    a tsunami, or the jolts and shakes
    there is still a chance-look! Be the Dance
    not the dancer, in the circle of life
    Come to a still point with Nature
    Where nothing matters anymore-
    Think and feel, help and heal, the needy
    Feed the hungry, for I can see-there comes
    Someone-keeps close and watches , ever present
    Who leads us on unseen and the Third we say
    Who helped us –its not our doing but The Mercy
    Of The Merciful-
    Bow bow bow –pray pray pray…
    Welcome love from above , eternal peace will stay

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Jamie I have compiled memories from parents family members and hope to print it all in book form…thank you for the hopeful encouragement.it means so much to me

        Liked by 1 person

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