Ellis Island

By Peter Balakian b. 1951 Peter Balakian
The tide’s a Bach cantata.
The beach is the swollen neck of Isaac.

The tide’s a lamentation of white opals.
The beach is free. The Coke machine rusted out.

Here is everything you’ll never need:

hemp-cords, curry-combs, jade and musk,   
a porcelain cup blown into the desert—

stockings that walked to Syria in 1915.

On the rocks some ewes and rams   
graze in the outer dark.

The manes of the shoreline undo your hair.   
A sapphire ring is fingerless.

The weed and algae are floating like a bed,   
and the bloodless gulls—

whose breaths would stink of all of us   
if we could kiss them on the beaks—

are gnawing on the dead.

Peter Balakian, “Ellis Island” from June-Tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000. Copyright © 2001 by Peter Balakian. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: June-tree: New and Selected Poems (2001)

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Poet Peter Balakian b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries

Holidays Independence Day

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Peter  Balakian

Biography

Peter Balakian is the author of several collections of poetry, including June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974–2000. His recent book, Ziggurat (2010), wrestles with the aftermath and reverberations of 9/11. His poems have been widely anthologized, including in the 1985 Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, and have been translated into several languages. He has published essays on poetry, culture, and art in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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