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Sailing to America

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Alexandria, 1956

The rugs had been rolled up and islands of them
Floated in the centers of every room,
And now, on the bare wood floors,
My sister and I were skimming among them
In the boats we’d made from newspaper,
Sheets of them pinned to each other,
Dhows, gondolas, clippers, arks.
There was a mule outside on the street
Braying under a load of figs, though mostly
There was quiet, a wind from the desert
Was putting the city to sleep,
But we were too far adrift, the air
Was scurfy and wet, the currents tricking
Our bows against reef and coral
And hulls shearing under the weight of cargo.
“Ahoy and belay!” I called to my sister,
“Avast, avast!” she yelled back from her rigging,
And neither of us knew what we were saying
But the words came to us as from a movie,
Cinemascopic, American. “Richard Widmark,”
I said. “Clark Gable, Bogie,” she said,
“Yo-ho-ho.” We had passed Cyprus
And now there was Crete or Sardinia
Maybe something larger further off.
The horizon was everywhere I turned,
The waters were becoming turgid,
They were roiling, weeks had passed.
“America, America, land-ho!” I yelled directionless.
“Gibraltar,” my sister said, “Heave to,”
And signalling a right, her arm straight out,
She turned and bravely set our course
North-by-northwest for the New World.
Did we arrive? Years later, yes.
By plane, suddenly. With suitcases
And something as hazy as a future.
The November sun was pale and far off,
The air was colder than we’d ever felt,
And already these were wonders to us
As much as snow would be or evergreens,
And it would take me a long time
Before I’d ever remember
Boats made of paper, islands of wool,
And my sister’s voice, as in a fog,
Calling out the hazards,
Leading me on, getting us there.

Gregory Djanikian, “Sailing to America” from Falling Deeply into America. Copyright © 1989 by Gregory Djanikian. Used by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.
Source: Falling Deeply into America (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989)
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Sailing to America

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