Emigrant Stations: Southern Italy

Marguerite Yourcenar

Red lamp, the stations' bleeding eye;
From down among the piled high bundles,
Long calling, sobs and fights;
Emigrants, apostates, on-the-run citizens
Of no country, caught between states;
Rails tangle then drift away.

Buffet: the food is too expensive;
A dirty haze on the door's window-panes;
Wait, obey, keep good order;
Customs officials: what's the point of borders?
Any rich person owns the entire world;
Destitutes are forever outsiders.

Dirt-caked masks washed by tears,
Too tired to rise up in anger;
Drawn faces, haggard;
The pack-saddle of work weighs heavy on them.
The scattering wind disperses them;
Tonight, ash ... When the lava?

Sometimes winter, other times summer;
Cold, sun, double violence;
Figures of exhaustion, bitterness, numbed brains;
Here, moaning, further away, silence;
The two pans of weighing-scales,
And the whiplash curse of poverty.

Heavy express trains, quartering space,
Metal, fire, water, glowing coals
Pull carriages through the night,
Filled with first-class fast-asleep passengers.
The vagabonds take fright, leap up.
Fear, amazement: the non-stop train has gone.

Worn-out cattle, broken-bodied,
Blocks of slumber strafed by death,
They cross themselves in terror.
A cry, a curse, a wild eye lit with fire;
They fear they will be crushed,
These people for all time crushed.

Last updated December 22, 2022