From Dirt Paths to Golden Streets

Book Review by Dennis Moore

Merle Fischlowitz has compiled a poignant book of poems that are the personal stories of immigration to the United States, from the 19th Century to the early 21st Century, "From Dirt Paths to Golden Streets."

The author has a personal and introspective affinity for these poems of immigrant experiences, as his adopted son, Benjamin, whose artwork is on the cover of this book, is an immigrant of Vietnam.

Typical of the poems in this reflection of America, the "Land of Opportunity," is the following:


Darwin was right!
The strongest do survive!
They leave their low estate
where there's no free air to breathe,
no honest work to feed themselves.

The strong and fit will find a way,
nightwalking across a hidden stream,
crowding on a smuggler's boat,
living hope in a jungle camp,
reborn to freedom from a secret womb of a carved-out car,
waiting in endless visa lines
to escape a gulag nation.
Their power drives them forward
as pistons drive the engine arms
that move the world.

Some marry the American dream;
others are adopted as dream-for children.

This golden land receives the gifts
of their strength, their genes, their sacred blood.

We whose lives are blessed
by fair elections,
open land to travel free,
by clean water, schools and work,
should send thank you notes
to Brezhnev, Castro, Jiang, Saddam - dictators, autocrats, despots,
thieves and commissars -
who drove their best and brightest to our shores.

This poem could speak of immigrants from Haiti, China, Mexico, or Iran. Fischlowitz weaves all their stories in this beautiful tapestry called America.

These poems are often in the voices of New Americans from many different cultures: African, Arab, Hungaraian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Polish, Russian, and Vietnamese. The poems explore their reasons for immigration as well as the challenges and benefits of becoming American. One such poem is "A Second Tongue," which Fischlowitz so eloquently delivers:

Do I have a second tongue,
another language than the one
I learned at mother's side?

When I hear a stranger's speech
or read a poem from faraway land,
I reach to grasp the thought
cast in words I do not know or understand
and listen for the heartbeat,
the sigh, the gasp of breath,
that unexpressed "I"
which moved another's pen to write
or mouth to speak.

Then I hear and know those thoughts
that flow across time and space
teach me to fine-tune an inner ear,
allow me to understand
there is no foreign tongue,
no strange land,
no alien race.

Additionally, "Reach Tomorrow" is based on a true story told to the author by a one-time Vietnamese "boat person" refugee, now a successful businesswoman in north San Diego County.

As five of the author's poems were drawn directly from related San Diego Union-Tribune news articles; "On the Mountain," "Golden Wheat," "At Manzanar," "Port of Entry," and "Somalia in San Diego," Fischlowitz' book seems to cover every human condition and nationality, making this a must read for everyone. These poems and stories tug at your heart strings.

This book is a reminder,that we all are immigrants to these shores, so passionately demonstrated through the poetry of the mind of the author, a book that I highly recommend.

Dennis Moore is a member of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers. He is also a freelance contributor to the San Diego Union-Tribune Newspaper. Mr. Moore can be be contacted at
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