Windowless Quotes

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The Mercy 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.

Philip Levine
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