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The Newer Colossus

By Karen Finneyfrock

My feet have been wilting in this salt-crusted cement
since the French sent me over on a steamer in pieces.
I am the new Colossus, wonder of the modern world,
a woman standing watch at the gate of power.

The first night I stood here, looking out over the Atlantic
like a marooned sailor, plaster fell from my lips parting
and I said, “Give me your tired, your poor,” like a woman
would say it, full of trembling mercy, while the rats ran
over my sandals and up my stairwell. I was young then
and hopeful.

I didn’t know how Europe and Asia, eventually the Middle
East, would keep pushing their wretched through the bay like
a high tide. I am choking on the words I said about
the huddled masses. They huddle on rafts leaving Cuba and we
turn them back. They huddle in sweltering truck backs crossing
the desert and we arrest them. I heard about a container
ship where three Chinese hopefuls died from lack of oxygen
pretending to be dishrags for our dollar stores. How can we not
have room for them? We still have room for golf courses.

I am America’s first liar, forget about George Washington.
My hypocrisy makes me want to plant my dead face in the
waves. The ocean reeks of fish and tourism, my optimist heart
corrodes in the salt wind.

“Give me your merchandise,” I should say.
“Give me your coffee beans. Give me your bananas and
avocados, give me your rice. We turn our farmland into strip
malls, give me things to sell at our strip malls. Give me your
ethnic cuisine, your cheaply made plastics, give me, by
trembling boatload, your Japanese cars. Give me your oil.
Not so I can light my lamp with it, but to drool it
from the thirsty lips of my lawn mowers. Give me your
jealousy, your yearning to crawl inside my hollow bones
and sleep in my skin made of copper.” Look,

over there is New York. Doesn’t it glow like the cherry
end of a cigarette? Like a nebula from the blackness
of space out here in the harbor? Wait with me. Watch it
pulse like a hungry lion until morning. I should tell you to
enjoy it from here. You will never be allowed to come in.

Added: Friday, August 21, 2015  /  From We Will Be Shelter: Poems for Survival (Write Bloody Press, 2014). Used with permission.
Karen Finneyfrock
Photo by Inti St. Clair.

Karen Finneyfrock is a poet and novelist in Seattle, WA. She is one of the editors of the anthology Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls and the author of Ceremony for the Choking Ghost, both released on Write Bloody press. She is also the author of two young adult novels: The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside, both published by Viking Children’s Books. She is a former Writer-in-Residence at Richard Hugo House in Seattle and teaches for Seattle Arts and Lectures’ Writers-in-the-Schools program. Karen is an alumna of Hedgebrook.

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