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Freedom just past the Fence

After working for the Army
for years on repairing jet engines
I ended up being stationed
in Pennsylvania one summer
repairing air conditioners
and refrigerators.
I’d only do a little work
and then have nothing to do
for a day or two.
But the thing I remember
is that at the time Cubans
were defecting to the United States
by boat.
They’d sail to Florida,
most of then dehydrated
and all of them malnourished.
The U.S. government
didn’t want them spreading diseases
in our country,
so when the Cubans would appear
off the coast of Miami,
the military would be waiting
to make sure they were healthy.
Well, all I knew
was that they got all these Cubans
into trucks we called ‘cattle cars’
with only a few benches
and trucked them up to Pennsylvania,
where I was,
and the military gave them some shots
to make sure they weren’t dying.
So these people, after
escaping their country
in a shoddy wooden boat
were taken by the U.S. military,
herded into a boxed-in truck
and shipped up the country
so they could be given shots
and detained.
These Cubans,
who came here wanting freedom,
now had to wait
in a fenced-in area
until they were tested
and given food.
And it was my job
to make sure that
their fridge and
air conditioner was working.
So I sat there for
a day or two at a time,
drinking cans of beer,
and looking out my window.
I had a view of the razor wire fence
and all I remember
was seeing all of these Cubans
leaning on the chain-link fence,
wondering if this was what it was like
to be free,
holding on to the metal,
looking out to what they were sure
was freedom.

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