Artwork © Claudio Parentela


Displaced Persons

Wednesdays, my mother and I took the streetcar
Downtown, the car guided by wires and rails
She with hat and gloves, me reading the signs
And the faces of the other riders
Watching as my mother made her judgments
Feeling the grumbling steel beneath my feet.

What kind of shoes encased their tired feet
Those who stood at the back of the streetcar?
Tattered clothing invoking her judgments
All while wires above consorted with rails
Below, programmed to carry these riders,
Immigrants from old countries, without signs.

Where do we get off? I’d ask. “Watch the signs.”
As I fidgeted past the street names, feet
Cradled in patent leather, unlike riders
Humbled at the back of the streetcar
As it screeched against the tarmac-covered rails
The same greeting for each rider, no judgments.

I wanted to know those other riders
Whose eyes did not see the unspoken signs
Each weary day they traveled those rails
So different from other streetcars
In other cities, the shoes on their feet
Years old, rough, courting my mother’s judgments.

And they were swift and sure, her narrow judgments.
“They’re DPs” said as I stared at the riders
“They shouldn’t be allowed on the streetcar.”
“Displaced persons,” she’d explained as her feet
Shifted, arms drawing me close, watching signs
That would announce our exit from the rails.

Her parents had taken boats, ferries, rails
Immigrants themselves, and now her judgments
Condemned worn clothes, dread hearts, and slipshod feet
Having herself avoided telltale signs
That marked them as “other,” not real riders
En route to new paths, carried by a streetcar.

The streetcar clopped along the curving rails
And the random signs that marked some riders
Mirrored judgments measured not in miles but feet.


Mary McAllister is a writer and a visual artist who keeps trying to retire, and yet, keeps working for no good reason. In her professional life, Mary worked for more than 25 years for the Johns Hopkins University as a writer/editor and continues to work for freelance clients around the world.

Born in Catanzaro (1962-Italy) where he lives and works, Claudio Parentela is an illustrator, painter, digital painter, photographer, mail artist, cartoonist, collagist, textile artist and freelance journalist. He has been Active since many years in the international contemporary art scene.