Category Archives: migration

bigger than a blog post, smaller than a breadbox

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately,

because this:

Fox_sketch-1

 

is coming out in the fall and contrary to what I’d somehow fooled myself into thinking,

my work is only just begun.

More to come lovelies, I promise. all sorts of things are moving and shaking.. a website, a video, events, travel. opportunities for folks to support getting the stories in my book out into the world. For now… disjointed waitress poetry will make an attempt to return, because learning how to market a book gives me a headache, and I need to write creatively again.

 

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mending a pair of pants we bought because we could afford them

This morning, while my son watched children’s television in the other room,
I sat by the open window on the bed and mended a pair of corduroy work pants
sipping my coffee and letting spring wash over my skin through the screen.
As I worked to knit the button hole back together,
I noticed how few stitches had been used to assemble the belt loops,
how there were loose threads
and poor workmanship here and there
and then I pricked my finger with the needle.
while swearing and applying pressure,
i glanced at the label,
and realized that the fabric I held in my hands
had been been held by a woman, or man, or child,
in China

i read “made in china” a hundred times a day
but i don’t realize much.
i think:
“ugh.”
then: “we can’t afford to buy things made fairly,
and “after all, i do try to buy second hand, so that helps, right?”

and there’s not much realizing after that, just an unspooling narrative of rationalization

like so much tangled thread
sure we bought the pants because we could afford them
and we could afford them because that person in China
made a few dimes
for these seams
and went home to a crowded room in a toxic city
hundreds of miles from their families
who they might see once a year.

I think about who made these pants,
and think about my seamstress great grandmother
an immigrant Eastern European woman
who fled the land of pogroms with (most of) her children
to Philadelphia
just a few years
after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
where, after her husband’s death from tuberculosis,
she made a living sewing theater curtains and
beaded bags
for wealthy women

and holding my mending by the window i think that these are not trivial connections
but literal ones
we can feel
as we bleed tiny drops of blood
into the same fabric

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Offerings to the Utter Brilliance of the Present Moment

As we were leaving, the sweet Vietnamese woman at Chu Minh Veggie Deli on Jackson and 12th bent down to stand face to face with our son in his rubber boots and his raincoat, and handed him a crispy vegan springroll wrapped in a napkin. “Because you are special,” she said,

and I felt my heart in my chest, standing by the window in the cramped deli as the birds took off in a mass from the telephone line outside and swirled into the grey sky, feathered bodies reflected in the puddles of rainwater laying on the pavement.  There was a sign on the wall behind a potted plant that said “We care more about compassion and protecting your physical and spiritual health than we do about making a profit” and it was as if they didn’t need to advertise it, they just needed to affirm it, somewhere, commit it to the visual world in case someone bothers to look closely,

which is how i feel about the tattoo on the back of my neck, which says

basic goodness

and is usually covered by my collar and my hair.

:like a declaration of compassion tucked behind the leaves of a potted plant,  like the reflection of birds swirling into a grey sky in a puddle of rainwater on the pavement, like the momentary connection between that woman and our small son

Offerings

to the utter brilliance of the present moment

 

 

 

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Last week, I visited the Northwest Detention Center.

On a cold, grey-sky January morning last week, I packed the diaper bag and made myself some tea with lemon and honey, since I was fighting a cold. In our bedroom, I scooped the baby warm and sweat-damp out of sleep and changed his diaper before he’d finished his waking up stretch. By the time I’d dressed him and bundled him into his carseat, his eyes had fallen closed again. I drove south from our neighborhood in south Seattle, past the sprawling concrete runways of Sea-Tac airport, to a trailer court near my husband’s school where many of his students live.

I was looking for the home of a brother and sister, one a current and one a former student of my husband’s. They and their younger brother needed a ride this morning, and I had offered to drive them. I followed a map my husband had drawn on a piece of scratch paper until I found their trailer. Their mother, a small, pretty woman with dark hair, welcomed me inside, exhorting me to come out of the cold, and I sat with the baby in an armchair near the door. Their home was cosy and dark with the heavy curtains drawn over the windows, likely to help keep out the cold. The parents’ wedding picture was framed over the television, which was tuned to a program in Spanish. The mother moved quietly around her house, finding jackets for her daughter and sons, who sat next to me and played with the baby. Their father wasn’t home. Back in early December, he’d been apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he’d been detained and awaiting deportation ever since. His wife and children hadn’t seen him in over two months. I had come to drive his children to his deportation hearing.

Their mother couldn’t take them because she’d be asked to show her papers, and she didn’t have the proper ones to show. As I sat in the armchair by the door holding the baby, an older gentleman who was a friend of the family gave the kids a brief set of instructions in English. “When you see your father, don’t talk to him. You can’t smile or wave or stand up. Just sit quietly. If you make the judge angry they could decide against your father. Do you understand?” The kids nodded.

Outside, their mother had her car warming up for me to drive. I pulled the baby’s carseat out of my car, and she installed it in her small four-door sedan with brisk efficiency. She was wearing a fleece jacket and a black skirt, and thick pink socks over her tights. I imagined her getting out of bed early while the house was still cold, dressing in an extra layer and turning on the heat. I wondered if she made herself tea or coffee and sat with her hands wrapped around the mug in the quiet, thinking about her husband, before waking up the kids and making their breakfast. I thought about how once you have children, feeling sorry for yourself is a luxury you don’t really have time for. I thought about her daughter, who’d been one of my husband’s students in his first year of teaching at this school. Exceptionally well-behaved and kind, perfectly bilingual, insightful, thoughtful, and intelligent far beyond her grade level, she’s a critical thinker, acutely aware of the systems that surround her. At the age of nine, she and another student staged a day of silence to protest injustice after learning about Mahatma Gandhi in fourth grade. She made such an impression on me I named the heroine of a children’s story I wrote after her. I wondered how much of her and her brothers’ comportment was the result of having had such a stable home life up to this point.

The kids climbed into the car and buckled their seatbelts, and we got onto the freeway heading south. The oldest, the girl, sat next to me in the front. Her brothers sat quietly in the back, the older one focused on entertaining my son in his carseat. I tried to make conversation, but none of us had much to say. We passed the Federal Way waterslide park in the rain, and I asked them if they’d ever been. The daughter brightened. “No, but a friend of my parents said maybe they’d take us this summer.” We lapsed back into silence. I followed the family friend’s car off the freeway just north of Tacoma, and we made our way through the industrial section of the city to the Northwest Detention Center. It’s what’s known as a “Contract Detention Facility,” which means that a private corporation is getting paid for each person detained here.

(Image by Alex Stonehill, from http://www.prx.org/pieces/52448-expanding-the-northwest-detention-center)

The Northwest Detention Center is a dismal-looking place. Razor wire spirals around the fencetops, and there is no visitor parking. A few spaces are provided for lawyers’ and employees’ cars, but those who are here to visit the incarcerated have to park on the street. There were lots of people there that morning, and I had trouble finding a spot. After I’d carefully tucked the car in a space near some sort of shipping yard and unloaded the kids and the baby, a man in a hard hat came outside to yell that he was going to tow my car. I gave the baby to the eldest girl to hold and moved the car to a spot in a nearby alley.

The family friend led us across the railroad tracks and inside, past the line of waiting families. He had been here before, and knew that we could bypass the line since we were here for a court date. A brusque official signed us in and ordered us to leave our coats and bags and cell phones in a locker. I was informed I could take only “one diaper, one wipe” for the baby. As we stowed our things in the locker and shepherded the kids through the metal detector, I heard this instruction barked at subsequent mothers waiting in line. “One diaper, one wipe!” “One diaper, one wipe!” I crossed my fingers the baby didn’t have anything in the works that couldn’t be handled with these minimal supplies.

We were buzzed from the waiting room into a hallway, where the kids found their dad’s name amidst three or four dozen other names on a court roster, taped to the white cinderblock wall. A security guard told us there would be a long wait. We took our seats. There wasn’t much to look at. Lawyers passed through occasionally, checking in at a glassed in desk. A portrait of Barack Obama in front of the American flag hung on the wall opposite us. The family friend made brief conversation, asking me about the baby, and telling me that his kids were grown, and that he worked the night shift last night and had not yet slept. The kids kicked their feet restlessly. I thought about playing “I spy” with them, but gave up on the idea since there wasn’t much to spy. In the hopes of staving off a courtroom meltdown, I turned toward the wall and breastfed my son under my sweater.

A mother who looked to be about eighteen came in with her baby, another woman, and two children. The baby bumped his head while playing on the floor and began to wail, and the young mother scooped him up and pressed his forehead to her lips, whispering words of comfort to him as she rose to bounce him in her arms. She did so with practiced efficiency, moving around the room until he fell asleep, and I felt a physical kinship to her, having done the same thing many times before.

About thirty minutes later, we were escorted by a guard into another hallway. We sat together on a long wooden bench and waited some more. Dozens of men in blue or orange prison jumpsuits were escorted in and out of the three courtroom doors while we waited. I watched the kids out of the corner of my eye, and wondered what it felt like for them to know they were going to see their father dressed as a prisoner. I wondered if they were reminding themselves of their instructions, not to smile or wave or speak to the father they hadn’t seen in over two months.

After another twenty minutes of waiting, the guard led us into the small courtroom. The detainees sat on the left side of the room, their families on the right. A Spanish-language interpreter sat at a desk before the judge, and a lawyer representing the federal government sat at another desk. In the center of the room, there was a third table with a microphone and a pair of headphones. We stood as the judge entered. She apologized for the delay, then proceeded briskly to the matter at hand. It took her approximately seven minutes to hear each case. Each detainee put on the headphones to hear the judge’s comments translated into Spanish.

Some of the men were in court for bond hearings, while others were being considered for deportation. To each of the potential deportees, the judge put the same set of questions. “Are you aware of your right to be represented by a lawyer?” If they did not have one present, (and only one of twelve did), she asked “Do you waive that right?” Most answered “si.” Through her questions, small details about these men emerged. Most had American-born children. Most were in their mid-twenties, and had been apprehended for traffic violations. Most were from Mexico. Several admitted to being afraid to return to their countries of origin, citing “the violence in Mexico” or “the violence in Guatemala.” Their answers seemed to matter little, and the judge authorized the deportation of nearly every one of the men.

The childrens’ father was the second-to-last to go before the judge. He looked down at the floor when he walked past his kids. My stomach tightened when I realized there was no lawyer present for him. His three children obeyed the instructions they’d been given, and sat still as he walked past them and put on the headphones. As it turned out, he was actually here for a bond hearing, and he did have a lawyer, who the judge called and put on speakerphone. The connection was poor and it was difficult to understand the conversation. It turned out that because their father had already begun the process of appealing his deportation, this particular judge lacked the jurisdictional authority to grant him a bond, and his entire hearing ended up being nothing more than a bureaucratic shuffle. As he walked back to his seat, the guard asked the children, the family friend and I to leave, and the kids’ father flashed them the smallest and briefest of smiles.

We were buzzed through the two secured doors, and passed single file through the metal detector to reclaim our coats and the diaper bag. Outside, we stood beneath razor wire in the rain, and I asked the kids if they understood what had happened. The eldest daughter said yes, and I did my best to explain it to her brothers and the family friend, who confessed he was confused over the outcome. I told him that while nothing had really happened, it seemed that we should feel good, because he wasn’t under immediate threat of deportation, and there would probably be another hearing soon. He said he would be there for it, and I said I would bring the kids back again. “Well, I’ll see you then,” he said, with a small tired smile. “It’s a good thing you’re doing,” he offered as I began to shepherd the kids off the sidewalk. “De nada,” I told him, placing my hand over my heart.

A half an hour later, I pulled up in front of the family’s trailer. The oldest two children asked if they could go back to school for the rest of the school day, and their mother and I raised our eyebrows at each other and smiled. She thanked me, and I told her “de nada” like I’d told the family friend, placing my hands over my heart. I offered to give her son and daughter a ride to school, and they clambered into the car with their backpacks.

When I said “de nada,” I did not mean I thought it was nothing.
I meant its the least I can do.
But mi español es muy malo.

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Letting in the Light

 

America is a nation prone to forgetting. We’d prefer not to dwell on the difficult and controversial past, when the American Dream dangles glittering on the future horizon. We privilege only particular stories for remembering, and we retell them in ways that leave out many things, in order that the Dream may continue to seem possible. Yet, despite our best efforts to look forward, the things we’ve forgotten persist. Every now and then, someone diligent excavates them from the shadows, and we are given the opportunity to see something difficult and real about America. If we do not look away, we may make real progress toward realizing the things about America we’ve been promised.  We may even have a chance to make art.

In south downtown Seattle, in the shadow of the sports stadiums and skyscraper bank offices, there is an old brick building tucked at the junction of Airport Way and the Interstate 90 on-ramp. Vacant for the past seven years, its rooms have a fine layer of dust, and the hallways are thick with ghosts, some dating back as far as the 1930s.  For nearly eighty years, this building has been known as the United States Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service.

This past weekend, music and voices echoed through the halls of the building.  Dancers were warming up in old offices, and artists were hanging their work on the walls. Seattle’s old INS building has a new name, and forgotten stories are being invited into the light.  Welcome to INSCAPE: “Seattle’s former INS building redefined by Culture, Arts, Preservation, and Engagement.”  INSCAPE’s mission?  To

[pay] respect to the history of the former INS Building and the people who made that history, the incredible structure and its bipolar spirit, the triumphs of those who became citizens and the tribulations of those who did not, the joys and sorrows that manifested the unique nature of this edifice.  INSCAPE creates a forum for possibilities; a collaboration with artists and artisans, creative individuals and organizations, the neighborhood and the city, to build a mutually supportive alliance that engages the Greater Seattle community in the experience of art and the celebration of culture.  INSCAPE reinvigorates the building and the neighborhood, bringing new life to the district with a renewed spirit created by the investment of the entire community in culture, arts, preservation, and engagement.

INSCAPE will host 125 tenants in nearly eighty-thousand square feet of space, making it “the largest arts and culture enclave in Seattle.”  The name demonstrates the founders’ commitment to remembering what the building was.  It also speaks to their desire to look forward, generating collaboration and community via interdisciplinary artistic expression.  They define INSCAPE in three ways:

noun: the essential, distinctive, and revelatory quality of a person, place, or object; the distinctive, dynamic design that constitutes individual identity, especially as expressed in artistic work.

verb: to bring together the unique, essential qualities of many individuals to form a cohesive, distinct community.

building: a collaboration of creative people and organizations, brought together by a vision of artistic and cultural expression in all disciplines, to form a community that expresses its essential nature through culture, arts, preservation, and engagement.

On October 16 and 17, INSCAPE threw wide the windows and let the fresh air of a sunny October weekend flood in to the old INS building for “Passages,” an open house dedicated to inviting the public to help explore the “past history and future possibility of the building.”

My husband and I visited INSCAPE on Sunday.  As residents of South Seattle, we regularly utilize Airport Way to get into the city, but neither of us could picture the building we’d seen on the INSCAPE website.  As my husband drove, I looked up the address on his phone.  “Its right next to the stadiums,” I told him.  “On Airport Way? Really?” he asked, eyebrows raised.  Once we found it, we were both a little shocked we’d never noticed it before.  Its redbrown roof is visible from the freeway, and up close, the former INS building is no podunk anonymous office building.  Its a formidable four-story structure spanning the better part of a block, replete with dozens of artistic flourishes popular in 1930s American architecture.  We stood on the sidewalk staring up at the neoclassical marble columns and Art Deco sunbursts over the arched windows and wondered how we’d missed it in all our years in the city.  We’ve lived here for over ten years between us, members of our families have called Seattle home for decades, and not one of us had ever walked through the doors of 815 Airport Way.

This is how it goes with government buildings for those of us privileged enough to never have to set foot in them.  They’re just part of the landscape.  Not so for those like artist and filmmaker Ladan Yalzadeh, who emigrated to the United States from Iran with her father as a teenager in 1986.  One of the visionaries behind INSCAPE, Yalzadeh was herself processed in the building in 1995, and she spent the weekend giving guided tours.  She led our group out of the lobby to stand on the sidewalk for the beginning of the tour.  After pointing out some of the architectural elements of the building, she gestured down the sidewalk, and urged us to imagine hundreds of people lined up out front.  “Rain, shine, snow, whatever.  All year round, all hoping to make it inside.  If you were lucky enough to make it to the door, you were greeted by a very unfriendly guard, and things generally went downhill from there.”

We followed her inside, where we were confronted by the dangling black silhouette letters of an installation by artist Katy Krantz, paying homage to the dozens of nationalities that made their way through the INS building’s bureaucratic corridors.

The letters danced and quivered in the draft from the open door, casting flickering shadows on the brick walls.  The installation created a vivid and unsettling presence, a fitting invocation of the thousands of stories that played out here, remembered only by those who lived them.  Sometimes the American Dream turns out great.  Sometimes it gets you deported.  Carrying my infant son through the letters, I felt painfully aware of my privilege.

As we began to walk the halls, we paused at printed squares on the floors, designed by artist Christian French, (also the main curator for the “Passages,”) to resemble spaces in a board game.

Turns out, getting in on the American Dream isn’t quite as simple as showing up and working hard.  In recent years, immigration-reform advocates have been fond of saying they welcome immigrants who are willing to follow the rules and come here legally.  The problem is, we keep changing the rules. We’ve been changing them for over a hundred and thirty years, and pretty much every country of origin has taken its turn on the thumbs down list at one point or another.

If the number of Americans who straightfacedly assert their family tree dates back to the Mayflower is accurate, then that pilgrim vessel had the passenger capacity of a fleet of Boeing Dreamliners. Despite the intensely American desire to have gotten Here First, most of us came much later, and received varying degrees of welcome when we did.  Many of the ethnic groups that seem “uniquely American” today were much less popular in previous generations.  Irish, Jewish, or Italian in your family tree?  In the late 1900s, you wouldn’t have been considered white.  Germans found themselves pretty unpopular roundabout WWI (and WWII didn’t help matters much) and Mexicans have been imported (ever heard of the Bracero program?) and exported by the US government at will depending on our need for cheap labor.  The truth is, America has always been a nation of immigrants, and xenophobic immigration policies have come and gone as regularly as the tides.  Unless your family has access to education, funds, and happens to arrive at the right time (read: your country of origin is in favor at the moment), the American dream of “legal” status is about as elusive as the one where you land in the White House.

Ladan spent her fair share of time waiting in lines, but as she gratefully acknowledged, she came here with the advantages of having already gained legal access.  She showed us Room 121, where she was processed for citizenship back in 1995.  She remembered how unsettling it was, even though she’d done everything by the book.  As part of her naturalization interview, she was asked to declare whether or not she was a Communist, and if she had AIDS.  A Canadian man on our tour added that as part of his green card interview several years ago, he was asked to declare whether or not he was a homosexual.  After demonstrating her English proficiency by writing “I love America” on a scrap of paper, Ladan was approved for U.S. citizenship.

As we made our way through the building, art installations and Ladan’s tour began to  fill the empty hallways and offices with a narrative of history and personal experience.  We were guided through the “Oriental” women’s dormitory and the “Detainee Booking” area, the tiny barber shop and the infirmary and childrens’ dormitories.  An artist had strung muslin sheets from the ceiling to recreate bunkbeds in what was once the “Chinese boy’s Dormitory;” through the windows, sun poured in, and the sports stadiums were visible nearby.  The pile of bars that previously flanked the dormitory windows were visible in the old exercise yard.  While its been almost a century since the wave of Chinese immigration that gave this room its name, young immigrants from other countries were confined here in the last decade.  I wondered if they were cognizant of the fact that American citizens were eating hot dogs at baseball games only a stones throw away.

Artist's recreation of the Chinese boys' dormitory

Grates that previously barred the windows

When we visited the exercise courtyard, we spotted something that may well have inspired Krantz’s installation on the main floor: the names and home countries of dozens of detainees, marked on the walls in black letters.  The ink?  Sun-melted tar, scraped from the corners of the courtyard by detainees on warm days.  Looking at the pile of bars, I couldn’t help but wonder if calling them detainees was just a semantic nicety.  Here, thousands of people who came to America in search of a better life for themselves and their children were held prisoner, until such time as the complex bureaucracy deemed them admissable or shipped them back where they came from.  Granted, some who attempt to come to America have dark pasts, or commit criminal acts while in this country, making their deportation seem legitimate.   Others lived here for years, raised children born as American citizens, paid taxes, went to church and worked two or three jobs at once to make ends meet, trying for years to attain citizenship, only to be deported after decades to a country their children knew only by way of stories.  The vast majority of people who spent time in the old INS building were no different from my great-grandparents, or yours.  They came here—and continue to come here—looking for their shot at the American dream.

The visiting area. Looks an awful lot like a prison.

The final stop on our tour was the basement of the building.  Here, the degree to which we have criminalized immigration was painfully clear.

Ladan Yalzadeh (in blue and white shirt) explains how detainees were told to follow the yellow line, much like in a prison, for processing.

The room behind the door held solitary confinement cells.

Before passing through the door, immigrants were ordered to place their hands on the prints for patdowns. I couldn't help but think of the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..."

The interior of a solitary confinement cell.

Our tour ended in the basement.  The group broke up and scattered to wander the art spaces in the rest of the building.  We stared at the dusty cell for a while before we climbed the stairs back into the daylight.  On the first floor, we visited the studios of artist Alica Tormey, whose mixed media paintings glowed in the warm sunlight flooding through the southfacing windows.  Dancers from the Manifold Motion group were giving previews of a performance they’ll be putting on throughout the month of November, dedicated to dance interpretations of moss and dirt and mold.  On the third floor, a wacky game of “apocalyptic miniature golf” was underway.

In inviting us in, the creators of INSCAPE are asking Seattle to see both the art and the walls behind it.  This INS building may have been decommissioned, but there are others like it all over the country, and the stories that take place behind their walls have been in the shadows for too long.   The folks behind INSCAPE aren’t out to change US immigration policy or throw open the borders.  They’re here to promote art, to “bring together the unique, essential qualities of many individuals to form a cohesive, distinct community.”  Sounds like a recipe for America.

* * *

If you’re interested in visiting INSCAPE, getting involved, or leasing a space, contact Sam Farrazaino at 206.257.3022 or www.inscapearts.org.  If you or anyone you know has a story about the old INS building, contact Ladan Yalzadeh.

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Filed under Americana, art, artists, basic goodness, coexistence, community, Family, fathers, gratitude, History, Homeland, memory, migration, Mothers, photographs, politrix, stories, violence

Once, clouds of them filled the city streets.


On the last day of our January visit with our grandfather in Milwaukee, my sister Emma and I go with him to the City Museum downtown.

The wind is bitterly cold. Grandpop wears gloves while he drives, but takes them off once he parks the car. People call him Smoke. He tells us he’s not sure where the nickname came from, but he’s had it since he was a kid. A friend of mine surmised that because his name is Morris, one of his friends must have pulled the “Smoke” from the association with Morris Tobacco. He was the first child in his family born in the United States, a few years after his parents immigrated here from Russia. He grew up in Philadelphia, which is where he met my grandmother Frances, and raised my father, Howard, and his sister Ellen.

The rivers in Milwaukee are frozen, a novelty to us northwestern girls. We find parking, and wander into the museum. Drink coffee and hot chocolate in the cafeteria, then make our way up the stairs, under a giant whale skeleton covered with white lights for the holidays. We are drawn almost immediately to the butterfly room. Stepping through the double glass doors, the warm humidity envelops us. There is piano music playing, and a small waterfall. Plants and trees crowd around, pressing at the walls and brushing our shoulders, and the windows face the street.

Outside, the bitter Wisconsin wind sweeps snow off the sidewalk drifts and swirls it into spirals. A schoolbus stops at a stopsign, then lumbers through the intersection. Pedestrians tug their collars higher around their necks and lean into the wind.

Inside, we begin to shed our scarves and coats. There is an utter absence of wind, only the movement of thousands of luminous butterfly wings.

We walk so slowly we are scarcely moving at all, gazing at the tiny, soft bodies, the shimmering colors and intricate patterns on their wings.
We watch them fly and hover and rest. Some land on us, clinging to hair and bright scarves.

“When I was young,” Grandpop says, “clouds of butterflies would appear in the city. Not just monarchs either, every color. Clouds of them. Of course, you don’t see that anymore.” I see it in my mind: a gang of young Jewish boys playing stickball on a cobbled 1920s Philadelphia street. Women in dresses and hats pass by carrying shopping baskets, and horse-drawn delivery carts make their way up the streets, bearing coal or ice. A sudden swirl of color and movement in the sky, thousands of butterflies, oranges and reds and pinks and purples and blues, hurrying between the buildings. The boys stand still, craning their necks, shielding their eyes against the sun, watching the living cloud pass by.

We stay in the small butterfly room for a long time. They feed on sponges soaked in sugar water and fruit juice, and land on tiny chunks of watermelon and apple. I watch a large one, brown on one side and shimmering blue-purple on the other, fly up against the window, over and over, and wonder if they mourn for their migrations, for larger spaces. I wonder if they remember the stories of the days when clouds of them filled the streets. For now though, they live in a tiny utopia, replete with all of the problems and advantages that come with an engineered habitat.

We glory in them, speaking in soft voices and watching carefully where we step. Emma spots one dying on the pavement, and searches for a twig, which the butterfly weakly clings to. She deposits it in a plant. “I didn’t want it to die on the pavement,” she tells us.

When we leave, we take turns spining slowly in front of three mirrors, to make sure that none of them have hitched a ride to the Big World on our clothing.

I think: I will remember this when I am old.

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Filed under butterflies, Emma, Grandpop, habitat, History, January, migration