—lays corroding on Atlantic’s sandy bottom, off the
northern coast of Norway; under Vjestford; seaweed, kelp
and starfish scuttling up and around her lanyard and deadeyes
over her rotting ropes. Crystalline rock buffs what’s left of her glory—
re-commissioned as she was, for his Majesty’s Service, 1939;
deployed to evacuate Narvik, its Allied forces and a few Jews,
June, 1940, until she ran afoul of Nazi torpedoes. But that’s the end
of her story. It began when the Vandyck was built after the war
to end all of them. She launched February, 1921—full throttle
for Montevideo, Pernambuco, Barbados, then on to New York.
Fortnightly services she gave to the hoi polloi and a fine lot of them
came aboard: Anna Pavlova and her corps de ballet bedazzled
on the main deck, moved terre à terre in one spit-and-polished salon
under Vandyck’s twinkling lights while Shackleton, the Arctic explorer,
was sailing his last spring tide topside, his rheumy eyes watching
the passing as he leaned out from her stern. Still, lower decks for lesser
classes were the best places for hi-jinks and hard tack. This is their
history, too. Ellis Island’s log books tell tales of the Portuguese, Chinese,
of Italians and Caribbean Brits. Of the Silvas, Rodriguez, Blackmans
and Paynes who came to Brooklyn but not until every alien answered—
who paid for your passage? How much money are you bringing?
Are you deformed—a polygamist—an anarchist? All were examined.
In 1923, AR Jenkins, MD, inspected young schoolmaster Thompson
who came—like many others, crossing after crossing, coveting America’s
normalcy. A Grenadine, young Thompson, my daddy, my ole man,
history’s onlooker, a witness to how it all dissolves to watery graves.
Originally published in Poem, Memoir, Story, No. 8