Farewell from Welfare Island, by Julia de Burgos

10 Dec

It has to come from here,
right this instance,
my cry into the world.

The past is only a shadow emerging from
nowhere.

Life was somewhere forgotten
and sought refuge in depths of tears
and sorrows;
over this vast empire of solitude and darkness.
Where is the voice of freedom,
freedom to laugh,
to move
without the heavy phantom of despair?
Where is the form of beauty
unshaken in its veil, simple and pure?
Where is the warmth of heaven
pouring its dreams of love in broken
spirits?

It has to be from here,
right this instance,
my cry into the world.
My cry that is no more mine,
but hers and his forever,
the comrades of my silence,
the phantoms of my grave.

It has to be from here,
forgotten but unshaken,
among comrades of silence
deep into Welfare Island
my farewell to the world.

Little you probably know that Welfare Island was a literal place.  An island on the East River, leased by New York city, it’s a place that first had prisons, then workhouses, then insane asylums, then apartments for the poor.  It’s now known as Roosevelt Island.   For years this island was separated from the city, bridgeless and alone.
It’s hard not to see welfare island as a gigantic metaphor.   It’s common to see welfare as some handout, but the truth is, that it set these people off in an island of their own.   Just like welfare island was at the very heart of New York City, yet completely separated, so is America’s underclass.   It’s funny, they live in the same places as everyone else, yet still manage to be invisible.   And yes, they suffer, they suffer terribly.  There’s is a life that knows no safety.
And that’s the thing, this voice which cries out just to be heard–is it from a prison, a workhouse, an insane asylum, or welfare housing?   Would there be any difference?  Aren’t all four places where freedom is severely restricted?   And yes, the farewell to the world might be a suicide, but then again, it might just be landing in any one of these places, because your chances of getting out of these swamps once you’re in them is slim to none.
And there’s a certain irony here, that the people are in these low spaces so that the other places can be “cleaner” “safer” “better.”   There are people whose lives are wrecked, and it makes no difference if it’s their own fault or not–their existences are pitiable, barely human.
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