First published in February 2017. Updated and reformatted.
by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Illegal Immigrants. Aliens. Refugees. Migrants. Slave Trafficking.
Words, most of them ugly, which represent an explosion of desperation among the world’s most vulnerable peoples.
There are 70.8 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced — the highest level of displacement since World War II.
We’ve see the statistics numbering in the tens of millions, pictures from cities torn apart by bombing, and the over-crowded refugee camps, but they have a numbing effect. On top of a global pandemic and economic chaos, it’s just TOO MUCH to take in.
So maybe listening to a few individual voices will help us find a connection, the first step toward the will to act.
Lanat Abad / The Place of the Damned
by Solmaz Sharif
this mangy plot where
only mothers still come,
only mothers guard the nameless plots
and then sparingly
Peepholes burnt through the metal doors
of their solitary cells,
just large enough
for three fingers to curl out
for a lemon to pass through
for an ear to be held against
for one eye then the other
to regard the hallway
to regard the cell and inmate
peepholes without a lens
so when the guard comes to inspect me,
I inspect him.
Touch me, he said.
And through that opening
by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
by Naomi Shihab Nye
“Syrian refugees go about their business in a refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan…”
Ropes on poles, jeans & shirts flapping in wind.
He sits on a giant bag of rice, head in hands.
Too much or too little, rips & bursts & furrows.
Something seared in a pan.
If you knew a mother, any mother, you would care
for mothers, yes? No.
What it is to be lonesome for stacked papers
on a desk, under glass globe,
brass vase with standing pencils,
How quickly urgencies of doing disappear.
And where is the child from the next apartment,
whose crying kept him awake
these last terrible months?
Where do you file this unknowing?
We Journey Towards A Home
by Mahmoud Darwish
We journey towards a home not of our flesh. Its chestnut trees are not of our bones.
Its rocks are not like goats in the mountain hymn. The pebbles’ eyes are not lilies.
We journey towards a home that does not halo our heads with a special sun.
Mythical women applaud us. A sea for us, a sea against us.
When water and wheat are not at hand, eat our love and drink our tears…
There are mourning scarves for poets. A row of marble statues will lift our voice.
And an urn to keep the dust of time away from our souls. Roses for us and against us.
You have your glory, we have ours. Of our home we see only the unseen: our mystery.
Glory is ours: a throne carried on feet torn by roads that led to every home but our own!
The soul must recognize itself in its very soul, or die here.
by Juan Felipe Herrera
…and I heard an unending scream piercing nature.
— from the diary of Edvard Munch, 1892
At the greyhound bus stations, at airports, at silent wharfs
the bodies exit the crafts. Women, men, children; cast out
from the new paradise.
They are not there in the homeland, in Argentina, not there
in Santiago, Chile; never there in Montevideo, Uruguay,
and they are not here
They are in exile: a slow scream across a yellow bridge
the jaws stretched, widening, the eyes multiplied into blood
orbits, torn, whirling, spilling between two slopes; the sea, black,
swallowing all prayers, shadeless. Only tall faceless figures
of pain flutter across the bridge. They pace in charred suits,
the hands lift, point and ache and fly at sunset as cold dark
birds. They will hover over the dead ones: a family shattered
by military, buried by hunger, asleep now with the eyes burning
echoes calling Joaquín, María, Andrea, Joaquín, Joaquín, Andrea
From here we see them, we the ones from here, not there or across,
only here, without the bridge, without the arms as blue liquid
quenching the secret thirst of unmarked graves, without
our flesh journeying refuge or pilgrimage; not passengers
on imaginary ships sailing between reef and sky, we that die
here awake on Harrison Street, on Excelsior Avenue clutching
the tenderness of chrome radios, whispering to the saints
in supermarkets, motionless in the chasm of playgrounds,
searching at 9 a.m. from our third floor cells, bowing mute,
shoving the curtains with trembling speckled brown hands. Alone,
we look out to the wires, the summer, to the newspaper wound
in knots as matches for tenements. We that look out from
our miniature vestibules, peering out from our old clothes,
the father’s well-sewn plaid shirt pocket, an old woman’s
oversized wool sweater peering out from the makeshift kitchen.
We peer out to the streets, to the parades, we the ones from here
not there or across, from here, only here. Where is our exile?
Who has taken it?
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust
So will we now see “65.3 million forcibly displaced people” with new eyes, and hear their voices whispering in our hearts?
- Solmaz Sharif is the daughter of Iranian parents, was born in Istanbul, as she describes it, “en route out of the country, out of Iran. We went to Texas, then we went to Alabama, then we finally ended up in Southern California. We moved around a little bit there. It’s been a long route.”
- Warsan Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents. Her family arrived in Great Britain when she was a year old. Shire is now a London-based writer, poet, editor and teacher. In 2013, she was awarded the inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.
- Naomi Shihab Nye’s father was a Palestinian refuge. She was born in St.Louis, Missouri. . “I grew up in St. Louis in a tiny house full of large music – Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson singing majestically on the stereo, my German-American mother fingering ‘The Lost Chord’ on the piano as golden light sank through trees, my Palestinian father trilling in Arabic in the shower each dawn.” During her teens, she lived in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, and the Old City in Jerusalem.
- Mahmoud Darwish, often regarded as the Palestinian national poet, was born in al-Birwa in Galilee, a village that was occupied and later razed by the Israeli army.Because his family had missed the official Israeli census, they were considered “internal refugees” or “present-absent aliens.” Darwish lived many years in exile in Beirut and later in Paris. He died in 2008 at age 67 in Houston, Texas.
- Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate (2015-2017), is the son of campesinos (migrant farm workers), and grew up moving from one migrant camp to another on the Pacific coast, following the harvest. He was appointed California’s Poet Laureate in 2012, and served in that post until his appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate.
- Prison door peephole
- “Aleppo Dust” taken after bombing by Abdalrhman Ismail for Reuters
- Syrian refugee camp
- Refugees seen in puddle on the road
- The Grand Central Market in Los Angeles since 1917
- Zaatri Refugee Camp, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud