“Erie”, 1841

Lake Erie

In August, they left Buffalo
on a steamboat full of immigrants.
Homeless and groundless,
passengers floated in beds
or hovered over game tables
or gripped deck railings,
steadying themselves.
Everyone wobbled, queasy and uncertain.
On the deck, two demijohns of turpentine
pitched and rolled like dice.

When the boilers exploded,
some passengers burned in their bunks
while others threw luggage in the water
and jumped in after it, hoping
their cracked satchels full of family pictures
would float them.
They clung to sepia faces
of mothers and grandmothers,
which stared, unblinking, into disaster.

One man, twenty, climbed
off the deck onto a sidewheel.
He sat on a spoke,
his hair freshly cut by the ship barber,
a picture of his girl in his vest pocket,
her head bobbing gently
as the ship rose and fell
as though she was nestled beside him
high on a ferris wheel,
rocking above a new country.

Cindy Hunter Morgan is the author of two chapbooks–The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker won The Ledge Press 2011 Chapbook Competition, and Apple Season won the Midwest Writing Center’s 2012 Chapbook Contest. Her poetry has appeared in the journals A cappella Zoo, Bateau, Sugar House Review, Weave and West Branch, among many others. She teaches Creative Writing at Michigan State University.