By Kathleen Ernst

The emigrant women of Dietlingen carried babies and bedrolls
and fat balls of homespun wool as they gathered at the port.
They gave the loose ends of yarn to the weeping
shawl-wrapped women who had come to wave good-bye,
and let the yarn unwind behind as they boarded the ship
soon to buck westward through Atlantic waves.

The emigrant women of Dietlingen pressed to the rail,
looking toward the dock while sailors set flapping, snapping sails.
The ship pranced from the harbor as a purebred filly
might leave her stall, and each woman clutched fibers—
white, gray, brown—twisted well on wheels
in distant valleys and villages, ephemeral tethers
to the mothers and sisters and friends being left behind.

The emigrant women of Dietlingen cupped their hands,
cradling the balls born from bouncing German lambs,
letting salt-damp yarn unwind through trembling fingers.
The wool unspooled too fast, too fast,
until each woman felt her filament slip away.
Soon dozens of strands billowed lightly over the swells,
waving farewell, disappearing like the tail of some fearful mare
galloping back to familiar pastures.

From Balancing: Poems of the Female Immigrant Experience in the Upper Midwest, 1830-1930, a collection of eighteen poems published by Little Creek Press. © 2021 Kathleen Ernst, LLC.