“Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.”
— Ovid, The Poems of Exile: Tristia and the Black Sea Letters
The world has witnessed Syrian refugees throughout the many stages of their journey. And now, the crisis in Europe has prompted the U.S. government to welcome 10,000 Syrians to our shores. The imagination can sometimes fail us when it comes to understanding such a large-scale migration. It is precisely these moments that call upon poetry to help remind us of our shared human experience.
From “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” by Adrienne Rich:
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
As featured on On Being with Krista Tippet.
From “A Mother In A Refugee Camp” by Chinua Achebe:
The air was heavy with odors of diarrhea,
Of unwashed children with washed-out ribs
And dried-up bottoms waddling in labored steps
Behind blown-empty bellies. Other mothers there
Had long ceased to care, but not this one:
She held a ghost-smile between her teeth,
And in her eyes the memory
Of a mother’s pride. . .
As featured on The Human Rights Warrior.
From “Exiled Sentence” by Nathalie Handal:
Most exiles do not take enough with them —
some obtain new lands, new identities
others return to the empty corridors of their sleep
in a place they are certain they can always call home;
Poem from Made In Palestine, Station Museum of Contemporary Art.
From “Wobbly Baskets” by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor:
some women do hair and wash people dirty clothes
to put a roof over their heads
to take care of an ailing mother
feed a pregnant daughter
provide for a missing husband
some women sew holes into their fingertips
burn their wrist frying hair
some women go to England to study nursing
go to America and work in white-lady kitchen
some women leave their children behind
Poem from So Much Things To Say: Over 100 Poets From the First Ten Years of the Calabash International Literary Festival, edited by Kwame Dawes & Colin Channer, Akashic Books, New York, 2010.
From “Panda, Macao, Gondolas” by Nicholas Y.B. Wong:
When Panda gambled, he gambled in the Chinese way –
he stopped at the dice and bet on BIG and SMALL
alternately. All his life he dreamed of fortune, but destiny
attached him to the bamboo woods,
where he rolled over hills and played dead.
He left his beginner’s luck in Sichuan, or on the boat.
For everything he bet on, the opposite happened.
No one knew how much he lost. Some said
he borrowed a loan from Shark, some said he sold his bile
to black markets, some saw him drunk in Black Sand Bay,
losing his mind and dignity.
Originally published on Cha.
From “Conversations about home (at a deportation centre)” by Warsan Shire:
They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land. I want to make love but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you’re young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on my face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck, I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.
As featured on openDemocracy.