The ship that took my mother to Ellis IslandEighty-three years ago was named "The Mercy."She remembers trying to eat a bananawithout first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seamanwho gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for herwith a red bandana and taught her the word,
"orange," saying it patiently over and over.A long autumn voyage, the days darkeningwith the black waters calming as night came on,then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the cornersof creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddishto find her family in New York, prayersunheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignoredby all the powers that swept the waves of darknessbefore she woke, that kept "The Mercy" afloatwhile smallpox raged among the passengersand crew until the dead were buried at seawith strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
"The Mercy," I read on the yellowing pages of a bookI located in a windowless room of the libraryon 42nd Street, sat thirty-one daysoffshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other shipsarrived, "Tancred" out of Glasgow, "The Neptune"
registered as Danish, "Umberto IV,"the list goes on for pages, November givesway to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.Italian miners from Piemonte digunder towns in western Pennsylvaniaonly to rediscover the same nightmarethey left at home. A nine-year-old girl travelsall night by train with one suitcase and an orange.She learns that mercy is something you can eatagain and again while the juice spills overyour chin, you can wipe it away with the backof your hands and you can never get enough.
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