/Drawing by a Syrian refugee, via PBS/
I love to think of poetry (and writing in general) as a journey to the deepest of depths, as a way of exposing open wounds, as a way of healing – in the end. While Europe ‘battles’ with refugees, poems and poets, novels and writers, keep on coming to my mind.
I think of Taha Muhammad Ali’s simple man, Abd El-Hadi, who fights a superpower. I think of Nadezhda Mandelstam and the way she survived through the worst of times so that she could talk about the worst of times, the way she lost everybody and lived to keep them alive – to save Osip’s poetry, to make sure nobody forgets the way he and thousands of others died. So here it is – pain, wars, exile – a small refugee blues, in a way…
“And after his death – or even before it, perhaps – he lived on in camp legend as a demented old man of seventy who had once written poetry in the outside world and was therefore nicknamed The Poet. And another old man – or was it the same one? – lived in the transit camp of Vtoraya Rechka, waiting to be shipped to Kolyma, and was thought by many people to be Osip Mandelstam – which, for all I know, he may have been. That is all I have been able to find out about the last days, illness and death of Mandelstam. Others know very much less about the death of their dear ones.”
Hope Against Hope, Nadezhda Mandelstam
“Look at them leaving in droves despite knowing they will be welcomed with restraint in those strange lands because they do not belong, knowing they will have to sit on one buttock because they must not sit comfortable lest they be asked to rise and leave, knowing they will speak in dampened whispers because they must not let their voices drown those of the owners of the land, knowing they will have to walk on their toes because they must not leave footprints on the new earth lest they be mistaken for those who want to claim the land as theirs. Look at them leaving in droves, arm in arm with loss and lost, look at them leaving in droves.”
We need new names, NoViolet Bulawayo
“I said, what is a homeland? I was asking myself that question a moment ago. Naturally. What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall? I’m only asking… Once again, Safiyya began to weep. She dried her tears with a small white handkerchief. Looking at her, Said thought: How this woman has aged. She squandered her youth waiting for this moment, not knowing what a terrible moment it would be.”
Returning to Haifa, Ghassan Kanafani
In his life
he neither wrote nor read.
In his life he
didn’t cut down a single tree,
didn’t slit the throat
of a single calf.
In his life he did not speak
of the New York Times
behind its back,
his voice to a soul
except in his saying:
“Come in, please,
by God, you can’t refuse.”
his case is hopeless,
His God-given rights are a grain of salt
tossed into the sea.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
about his enemies
my client knows not a thing.
And I can assure you,
were he to encounter
the entire crew
of the aircraft carrier Enterprise,
he’d serve them eggs
fresh from the bag.
Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower, Taha Muhammad Ali
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
Home, Warsan Shire
To the families and lovers at the bottom of the sea, trying to reach Europe.
How do we overcome war and poverty only to drown in your sea?
Habeebi just take the boat.
In front of you : Bahr.
Behind you : Harb.
And the border, closed.
Your Sea, Mare,Bahr. Our war, our Harb.
Where is the interpreter?
This is my family.
Baba, mama, baby all washed up on the shore. This is 28 shoeless survivors and thousands of bodies.
Bodies Syrian, Bodies Somali, Bodies Afghan, Bodies Ethiopian, Bodies Eritrean.
Your Sea, Mare,Bahr. Our war, our Harb.
Habeebi, just take the boat.
Behind you Aleppo and Asmara, barrel bombs and Kalashnikovs.
In front of you a little bit of hope.
Your Sea, Mare, Bahr. Our war, our Harb.
Maps on our backs.
Long way from home.
No search, No rescue, Jehan Bseiso
The Day I die
My killer will find
Tickets in my pocket:
One to peace,
One to the fields and the rain,
And one to humanity’s conscience.
I beg you – please don’t waste them
I beg you, you who killed me: go.
Travel Tickets, Samih Al-Qasim