Margaret Atwood

The Immigrants

They are allowed to inherit the sidewalks involved as palmlines, bricks exhausted and soft, the deep lawnsmells, orchards whorled to the land’s contours, the inflected weather only to be told they are too poor to keep it up, or someone has noticed and wants to kill them; or the towns pass laws which declare them obsolete. I see them coming up from the hold smelling of vomit, infested, emaciated, their skins grey with travel; as they step on shore the old countries recede, become perfect, thumbnail castles preserved like gallstones in a glass bottle, the towns dwindle upon the hillsides in a light paperweight-clear. They carry their carpetbags and trunks with clothes, dishes, the family pictures; they think they will make an order like the old one, sow miniature orchards, carve children and flocks out of wood but always they are too poor, the sky is flat, the green fruit shrivels in the prairie sun, wood is for burning; and if they go back, the towns in time have crumbled, their tongues stumble among awkward teeth, their ears are filled with the sound of breaking glass. I wish I could forget them and so forget myself: my mind is a wide pink map across which move year after year arrows and dotted lines, further and further, people in railway cars their heads stuck out of the windows at stations, drinking milk or singing, their features hidden with beards or shawls day and night riding across an ocean of unknown land to an unknown land.

from Eating Fire (Virago, 1998)
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