I am an American.
I was born here.
My parents were born here.
My grandparents were immigrants,
fled persecuted lands
beyond the protection
of law, decency.
Some of my family were devoured
by the great evil that swept Europe,
suspending humaneness,
destroying fellow beings
without remorse

Yet some escaped,
came to the promised land,
rudely welcomed at Ellis Island
like countless thousands before,
despised by earlier settlers,
until assimilation	
dispersed origins sufficiently
to allow moderate acceptance
of new citizens
who never forgot
the whips of the Cossacks,
the clubs of the polezei.

And their children flourished
in the new land,
despite peasant ignorance
of a modern city
with jobs, apartments, comforts
inconceivable from whence they came.
They daringly began
to feel they belonged
to this confusing nation,
enduring intolerance,
insults, indignities,
sporadic beatings,
but never arbitrary arrest,
arbitrary imprisonment.

The children of the children
of the daring grandparents
who bravely fled
dangerous countries,
crossing perilous, unwelcoming lands,
reaching dazzling seaports
as foreign to simple folk
as to their forebears
centuries before
coming to a city.
Then a frightening sea voyage
on a metal monster
belching toxic fumes,
sick from churning waves,
then the mad rush to the rail,
the Statue of Liberty
beckoning a friendly shore.

It took a while
for the alien folk
to begin to find a place
and when the worst that happened
was street kids mocking old world ways
they started to believe
no one would break down their door,
snatch their children off the streets.
And they found a new security.
They didn’t learn much English,
but it never mattered to me
since they fed me lavishly
and only scolded me
when they caught me at mischief,
a frequent occurrence.

So the children of immigrants
made blue-collar places for themselves,
got more education
than they would have in harsher climes,
worked hard, ate well, slept soundly,
survived a great depression
that crushed so many Americans,
had children and multiplied,
served their country in World War II,
supported their country loyally
against the communist menace
and  their children grew up with comforts
unknown to their ancestors
persecuted in cruel lands.

Then the grandchildren of immigrants
who found the American dream
graduated high school,
went to college,
developed careers
that brought prosperity,
while many of their countrymen,
denied opportunity
lingered in poverty,
some at low paying jobs
others on welfare,
some not motivated
to improve their lives,
the lives of their children.


The offspring of immigrants
built middle class lives,
while too many people
were callously abandoned
to the squalor of neglect
by minions of the lords of profit,
their masters rabid consumption
of the wealth and resources
of a prosperous nation
devouring more and more,
refusing to share
with those in need,
concocting a corporate philosophy
of detachment from obligation
to the sheltering nation
that no longer received taxes,
ensuring too many citizens
would not be assisted
by an unraveling government.

It took a while
for descendants of immigrants,
those who did not prosper,
to recognize equality
was determined by wealth.
Graduates of prestigious schools
fared better than others
in the pursuit of careers
that would assure success,
the reward of accomplishment,
luxury homes, luxury cars,
old master paintings,
while the underprivileged
huddled in public housing
unable to conceive
they lived better than
the poor of eld.

One great inequity
of a callous system
is sports scholarships
to competing athletes,
skills developed
in outreach programs
structured to identify
exceptional prospects,
groomed through youth leagues,
high school, college, the pros,
until some had good lives.
While in our slums, public housing,
there are no programs to discover
the intellectually gifted
mathematicians, scientists,
vital in the Information Age.

As the divide grows wider
between haves and have-nots
there’s no sense of obligation
to most of the people
not on a prosperity track.
The wealthy grown so insulated
from feelings of compassion
they no longer notice
the suffering of the people,
passing human wreckage on the streets
blind to scars of deprivation,
driving past houses of squalor
in expensive autos
without seeing crumbling abodes.

The mansions of the rich
girded by protective walls,
guarded by security
armed, ready to fire
to maintain the tranquility
of the lords of profit
that allows continuation
of acquisition efforts
to consolidate
the wealth of a nation
in controlling hands,
unwilling to share
the bounty of the land
with those below them,
only permitting
a trickle down effect,
pennies for many,
dollars for a few.

About the author:

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. He worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theater. He has also been a tennis pr, a ditch digger, and a salvage diver. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes, and Sophocles have been produces Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and his published books include 34 poetry collections, 14 novels, 3 short story collections, 1 collection of essays, and 5 books of plays. Gary lives in New York City.

Photo by Dennis Maliepaard on Unsplash