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Friday, March 25, 2016


by Lisa Suhair Majaj

A tent in Idomeni Camp. Image source: Cyprus Refugee Solidarity, March 16, 2016

                                    “Hope is a tough bitch to kill.” —Faye Karavasili, Cyprus Refugee Solidarity

They trudge through rain and mud, their wrecked shoes
and sodden clothes a testament to everything broken,
lives reduced to rubble like the shattered hulls
of homes they left behind. Ahead lie footsore roads,
barbed wire,grim officials thrusting the press of bodies back
and back, floodwater rising on all sides, relentless
as the memories that pursue them no matter how far
they walk, heads bent beneath the rain, children clinging
to a parent’s back or borne on a weary shoulder,
a small hand in a larger hand, a long column of people
trekking weary, undeterred, from bone-chilled morn
to damp, cold dusk, snatching sleep in cramped tents
or open fields where they wait for dawn, for refuge,
for a border opening. But dawn comes each morning
with its orange refusal: rain, closed borders, stolen dreams.

The desperate do not give up. They escape to illegal crossings,
wade into swiftly-flowing rivers, pass babies and toddlers
hand to hand in a human chain, threading the cloth of desolation
with a thin gleam of hope, even as muddy currents sweep away
the unlucky, the overly-weary. Their goal?
The future, the other bank, a chance to keep on walking.

In Idomeni camp, illness and despair permeate
everything: the sucking mud, the weighted sky,
the grim and cheerless air. A Yazidi child
peers out from a torn and tiny tent,
her face a bright beacon amid the gloom and muck.
She begs for a balloon, but there are no balloons
to be had here, only sodden rags that hang
from trees and tent poles – limp flags
that have long ago given up the dream of flying.
Yet at her plea something bright and colorful
rises wisp-like in the dank, cold air,
floating improbably above the tent-city
pitched on the razor-edge between despair and hope.

The mother smiles as she gently strokes
her daughter’s hair. “How can you smile?”
an aide worker asks, "amid all this?"
The mother pauses, then replies.  “They wanted
to chop her hand off for offending the faith.
Here, no one wants to chop off our hands or heads.
We can be free.” She speaks calmly, her eyes seeking
the gray horizon. Behind her, ghosts murmur,
their soft keening an echoing whisper
in the darkening sky, rising above this graveyard of dreams
where hope is the last survivor.

Lisa Suhair Majaj is the author of Geographies of Light, winner of the Del Sol Press Poetry Prize. She lives in Cyprus. This poem responds to the refugee crisis in Greece, particularly at Idomeni camp.