for my Swedish grandfather
From the ship, then the train,
your footsteps took you to work
in 1880’s industrial Chicago,
where fertile factories multiplied
assembly lines and mansions
burgeoned like mushrooms.
A skilled country youth,
son of Lars, you were sent out
at sixteen to make your way.
Soon each saw-cut, each hammer-
blow drove your blood
faster, muscle and will
applied for wife and children.
Full of hopes you hauled
your seventy pounds of tools
on the streetcar daily,
employed them and lugged
them home again to your family’s
In recurring dream you are past
sea dangers, past Ellis Island and
the freights running on Carnegie’s tracks;
you hold a thick sandwich, lutefisk
and pickle on light rye bread,
swallow it down as if
you’re at mid-summer smorgasbord,
everyone chattering together, alive.
In their haven of native language,
those who might starve or sink
instead fortify their hearts, warm
the tired hands scratched or
broken for the new world.
What other way? No ships return.