Image by Kather­ine Messenger

At the protest where every­one was outraged

about chil­dren in cages a guy who looked

vague­ly like Jesus was hold­ing a Keep Families

Togeth­er sign and a woman who want­ed to speak

was hold­ing a mega­phone then said I’ve nev­er

used one of these things how does it work? and her

friend with the #lovethyneigh­bor (no exceptions)

sign said hold it clos­er to your mouth and she did

and while she was speak­ing pick­ups drove by with

enor­mous Trump flags — pick­ups drove by blasting

aggres­sive coun­try God Bless the USA and I couldn’t

stop look­ing at protest Jesus’s work boots, his cut-off

home­made tank top. I was hold­ing a sign sharpied

on the back of a piz­za box from four protests ago

that said Child of a Refugee with a red arrow pointing

to me and I stood near three women with small cages

for rab­bits / birds / ger­bils that each held dolls

—one was a Cab­bage Patch Kid with blonde braids—

since protest as mixed media sculp­ture is a thing now

even in Appalachia and there was a tod­dler wearing

a super­man shirt, hold­ing a rain­bow Super­man Was

a Refugee poster and his father was hold­ing him

on his shoul­ders. Some nights when it was late

and my sons were small and asleep in their beds

I’d turn off all the lights in the house and suddenly

the sound of a train or a cow or crick­et something

mov­ing and alive from their puz­zles would speak

when you shift­ed a piece off or put one back on—

this inan­i­mate thing made ani­mate by light would

utter ghost sounds. The reporter from the local paper

asked me why I was there on the side­walk, so I told

her about my moth­er and the DP camps — I told her

only a small part of the sto­ry but she still looked

shocked. To hold is to bear the weight of a person

or thing, to grasp or car­ry or sup­port with our arms,

to embrace some­one, to keep or detain someone;

there’s the hold of a ship, or remain­ing secure and

intact in a posi­tion, to main­tain a con­nec­tion until

the per­son on the phone line is free to speak, to

have in your pos­ses­sion the act of grasp­ing some-

thing, a degree of pow­er or con­trol. The last Shoah

sur­vivors are near­ly gone so they’ve made holograms

to tell their sto­ries to school chil­dren and museum

vis­i­tors but it’s not the same; we respond to the sound

of an actu­al human voice attached to a body which

means when the next woman with the megaphone

in an ecu­meni­cal col­lar starts to read the last four

lines of Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus”

there’s not a dry eye on the side­walk in front of

our local con­gres­sion­al office — the congressman

who is gone, the con­gress­man who got teary, who

looked me in the eye and said that kind of 

per­se­cu­tion could only hap­pen in Ger­many when I

told him my fam­i­ly sto­ry, refugee from fugio:

to flee or escape from this to that. Our meeting

was a sea­son before Nazis marched through

Char­lottesville and the rab­bis pulled the Torah

scrolls from the build­ing and some­one was killed

and I began quizzing my sons on our full

names/​addresses/​phone num­bers. Superman

—born Kal-El on the plan­et Kryp­ton — was

rock­et­ed to earth by his father unaccompanied,

alone as an infant moments before the destruction

of his plan­et; it was months before anger

turned to pan­ic then to fear and here we are

the dis­lodged pieces, shoul­der to shoulder,

light-sen­si­tive and bleat­ing into the deep night.

Eri­ka Meit­ner is the author of five books of poems, includ­ing Ide­al Cities (Harp­er Peren­ni­al, 2010), which was a 2009 Nation­al Poet­ry Series win­ner, Copia (BOA Edi­tions, 2014), and Holy Moly Car­ry Me (BOA Edi­tions, 2018). Her poems have appeared in The New York Times Mag­a­zine, Tin House, The New Repub­lic, Vir­ginia Quar­ter­ly Review, Oxford Amer­i­can, Best Amer­i­can Poet­ry, Ploughshares, and else­where. In 2015, she was the US-UK Ful­bright Dis­tin­guished Schol­ar in Cre­ative Writ­ing at the Sea­mus Heaney Cen­tre for Poet­ry at Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty Belfast, and she has also received fel­low­ships from The Mac­Dow­ell Colony, the Vir­ginia Cen­ter for Cre­ative Arts, the Blue Moun­tain Cen­ter, and the Wis­con­sin Insti­tute for Cre­ative Writ­ing. She is cur­rent­ly an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Vir­ginia Tech, where she directs the MFA and under­grad­u­ate pro­grams in Cre­ative Writing.