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The Mercy Analysis



Author: poem of Philip Levine Type: poem Views: 14

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The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island

Eighty-three years ago was named "The Mercy."

She remembers trying to eat a banana

without first peeling it and seeing her first orange

in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman

who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her

with a red bandana and taught her the word,

"orange," saying it patiently over and over.

A long autumn voyage, the days darkening

with 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 corners

of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish

to find her family in New York, prayers

unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored

by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness

before she woke, that kept "The Mercy" afloat

while smallpox raged among the passengers

and crew until the dead were buried at sea

with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.

"The Mercy," I read on the yellowing pages of a book

I located in a windowless room of the library

on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days

offshore in quarantine before the passengers

disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships

arrived, "Tancred" out of Glasgow, "The Neptune"

registered as Danish, "Umberto IV,"

the list goes on for pages, November gives

way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.

Italian miners from Piemonte dig

under towns in western Pennsylvania

only to rediscover the same nightmare

they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels

all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.

She learns that mercy is something you can eat

again and again while the juice spills over

your chin, you can wipe it away with the back

of your hands and you can never get enough.






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