Size / / /

First immigration—The Strangers of the Glass

in dress of handblown cinnamon and blue

and speaking speckled bubbles in the glass;

Their power is to come and pour a road—

to molt the land for us,

then leave

[The In-between]

with luggage of caramel leather and brass locks—no,

there's no romance in this travel. Only a crumbled

book in Yiddish and a tin

of buttons (remember the horn one from grandmother's

mustard dress she wore on the train to . . .) cut from all the old

dresses, and grandmother's

death certificate is ten days old. A plastic bag

of photographs. A dry salami.

In Hungary, they put us behind bars.

A Mini-Map

There are two waters in my land

bridged by a road of molten glass

and if you step on it, you'll pass

outside of tenses:

neither past, nor present, nor a future, nor

(first, second, third) a person (singular or plural)

instead, a being on the road of glass

[In Hungary, they put us behind bars]

to wait for the plane. Like rats in a ca- /

people / sheep to the sla- / (now you cross out)

My grandmother's ghost

struggled to follow us, but lost her way

somewhere in the fields between point A

and the warehouse. They didn't

let us peek out. My father said

Budapest must be beautiful

Second Immigration—The Strangers in Soldiers' Clothing

war-tossed in weeping ships

they arrive at Northwater. They left behind

everything,

even the ocean. Brought only the bell

forged by citymakers

by true voice-makers in the old country. The song

tolls the dead into their new earth. They build

a church at Graveyard Island, and hang

their voice there; then on

to the road of glass

[Arriving, the Gulf War]

is the first thing I remember. Bombs falling, and a gaping

hole in the wall. Sirens. A family of four,

we locked ourselves in the bathroom. The gas mask smelled

like gas, or burnt rubber,

or a language.

Cockroaches ate

my mother's salvaged wedding dress, and I learned

to speak; made up three languages to hide in

Beginnings are endings

When they reached Southwater, the war clothing

seeped into their skins and they as speechless as fish

that clog the glassroad,

fish for the souls of the dead

scraped onto the glass.

They settled by the Southwater,

walled off a city there. Called her Bell,

or perhaps—

    nothing.

Third Immigration—The Strangers with Animals

They come joyfully, bringing only

their most beloved ones—a small city

guarded by white beasts in the heart of one person; another

carries a snake abjad to spell the truth

in blunt consonants. Another's heart

protects the bird of vowels.

Shall they unlock

the larynx of love and longing, or shall they step

onto the road of molten glass?

[I was so terrified, I don't remember]

a thing of that last journey. I'd packed

two changes of clothing (my mother had bought me

four-inch heels with her last money; I cannot

wear them, but have no other shoes).

Three books—

a battered copy

of the Poetic Edda in Old Norse, Biblia

Hebraica Stuttgartensia, and Ted Hughes' Crow.

I do not remember

how they stood—my father speaking

for the last time, or my mother—

before his stroke. I do not remember

how the plane smelled, or the long winding line

at immigration services.

Alone.

In the future of me, the San Francisco Bay Bridge

circles my head like a red dragon crown.

Coda: I made three languages

to hide in. Each within

the only land I've ever called my own

between the waters. I am still the same

or am I? How to know

if all my journeys are translated in the skin

or am I dithering

before the road of glass?




R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant and the Nebula and Crawford-nominated author of Birdverse stories and other works. Their fiction debut, The Four Profound Weaves, is available now from Tachyon Press (2020). You can find R.B. on Twitter at @rb_lemberg, on Patreon at patreon.com/rblemberg, and at rblemberg.net
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