They knew from the very first
this would be a job
only a woman would do.
Standing through the seasons
in this harbor over a hundred years
offering what we French call hospitalité.
This wasn’t for haute cuisine and wine.
I was put here, an immigrant myself,
to welcome refugees
from famine and oppression,
asking only that they do their part
to protect the ideals and way of life
that moved always
in the direction of freedom.
Sometimes my presence
served to remind this
congregation of immigrants
that only a few can call
this their native land – and they never
owned the land so much as respected it
and kept it friendly to all creatures.
History knit us together in community
when natives and newcomers rose up,
fought together and died to remove
dictators from power –
declared enemies of liberty.
I don’t know if I can bear
this flame much longer.
He makes his home here now,
and would build a wall,
cage the children who would
give us the next generation of freedom.
For all I have seen from here,
watching the towers in flames,
seeing the bodies falling –
none of it drove me to fits of crying.
But lately, seeing the dream of democracy
reduced to a cruel
farce staged by and for one vain man –
I am so alone out here.
I was drafted on April 9, 1968. As a graduate student and never much of an athlete, I was older than most of the other trainees in my basic training unit by six or seven years and not ready for the kind of physical exertion my DS was demanding of me. After checking in for sick call with blood in my urine around the fifth week of our eight week training period, I was hospitalized for treatment of what they thought was a kidney condition but was more likely, now I think, exertional rhabdomyolosis.
The California Democratic Primary had been held June 4. National news was not easy to come by in the William Beaumont General Hospital and I was only vaguely aware of the result of the primary and that Robert F. Kennedy had been wounded and survived an assassination attempt. There was a single television set on the ward and it was usually tuned to sports or sitcoms. We had no news the following day to help us understand how serious Kennedy’s condition was.
I was happy for Kennedy’s win as he seemed the most likely candidate to help us bring the war to an end and maybe even save me from a trip over there. By this time, most young Americans were pretty well hardened to the politics of violence but found it difficult to believe that a brother of JFK would die as he did or that it could happen just a matter of weeks after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. I had gone to bed hopeful he would survive and the war could be brought to an end.
On the morning of June 6, my new and all-too-constant friend the phlebotomist, who had come to do his daily invasion of my vein, shook me by the shoulder and said to me, “He died, you know.”
In my sleepy stupor I was confused by what he was telling me. Then he said in a very sad, quiet voice, “Bobby died this morning.”