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“EMIGRATION FORM”
Queen Mary arriving in New York Harbor, June 20, 1945. US Navy, public domain.

Queen Mary arriving in New York Harbor, June 20, 1945. US Navy, public domain.

 

by Michael Salcman

 

In my father’s desk I find a novel on a single page:
File No. 5749 opened the first of May, 1948
covers a trip from Prague to London
and from there to New York. The form lists
each member of our family in a separate column:
Artur, born in Posa on June 10, 1911, as head of group;
Edita Atlas, born in Košice, January 26, 1927, his wife;
and Mirko, born Plzeň, November 4, 1946, their son.
It’s the first time I see my name spelled that way.

The A.J.D.C. paid for the train ride to Southampton
on February 8, 1949, and passage to New York
on the steamship Queen Mary ten days later.
The cost was the equivalent of 29,422 Kos.—
Czech korunas or little crowns. Back then
you couldn’t get a visa without a place to go to
and there it is, 47 West 34th Street
where cousin Artur Klein worked or lived on Herald Square.

Today the entire building fills orders for wholesale shoes,
Henry Ferrara, Promex and Alliance Footwear,
and on the third floor, Hennes & Mauritz, also known
as H & M, ships ladies clothes, mannequins, tights and ties.
I don’t know who buys them, perhaps more recent émigrés
from Asia or our southern border.
And no visa got stamped without proof of pocket money,
my father’s thirty dollars dutifully listed.

The form was signed in Prague on February 3, 1949
five days before we left on the last train the Soviets let out.
Today the Queen Mary is a floating hotel, resting at a dock
in Long Beach, California, retired there in 1967
after a thousand trips across the Atlantic.
She’s reportedly haunted by ghosts, I believe
some are the children she couldn’t save.

 

Michael Salcman, poet, physician and art historian, served as chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. He lectures widely about art and the brain. Poems appear in Alaska Quarterly ReviewHopkins ReviewThe Hudson Review, New LettersNotre Dame ReviewPoet Lore and Ontario Review. Featured on Poetry DailyVerse Daily and All Things Considered, his work has received six nominations for a Pushcart Prize. The author of four chapbooks and two collections, The Clock Made of Confetti, nominated for The Poets’ Prize, and The Enemy of Good Is Better (Orchises, 2011), Poetry in Medicine, his anthology of classic and contemporary poems on doctors, patients, illness and recovery was published in 2015 (Persea Books, 2015). Special Lecturer in the Osher Institute at Towson University, Salcman is a poetry editor at The Baltimore Review and art editor for The Little Patuxent Review. His forthcoming book,  A Prague Spring, Before & After, a collection of poems about the Holocaust, family and Prague, won the 2015 Sinclair Poetry Prize from Evening Street Press. For more information, visit salcman.com.