I cage a ride out of Africa,
a boat packed with war-torn emissaries,
a crew of blind, leprous kids.
Behind me,
only the afternoon of a broken sun.

Here, the sea alone, is sea,
time alone, can be without hours of dread,
air alone, without the indrawn breath,
and the sky, an arc into all directions.

Out here, what is state,
or territory for the unmoored?
What is symbol?
The ocean takes us all in her abundant folds,
like a flag or a body bag.
Here, at last, we are free.

But my fellow refugees
know no other way
than how to recreate ancient animosity,
and replay the whole hopeless farce
of our scorched memory
on this waterlogged plank.

Already the society of worms
breeds in our midst,
division of skin,
and words sharpened into toads.
Already the new world is old.

Those who die,
we slip into the quiet, waiting water
and watch them float like buoys
marking the failure of our diplomacy.
We could have rebuilt a country of love
on this raft lost beyond the dry earth,

a brief paradise
between the weapons we left behind
and those that await us.
Countries and martyrs revolve
in our starved minds.
We send our dead ambassadors
ahead to shore.


My boy, I dragged you out
of our besieged night,
our piles of books and cupboards of food,
places we’d kept neat
for mothers and sisters,

because the years and the State
and the extremists
had turned against
those who think and talk and
dance with their neighbours.

Three times we’ve criss-crossed the ocean
in weeping ships,
seen ports brown as hulls,
walked brigand deserts
that plundered our coats
and expelled us onto
cold, dawnless shores.

We’ve caged rides on barges
taking scrap metal to Marseilles,
hooked our blind souls to migrating lorries,
unrolling the thinning strand
of life as far as Calais.

And no one once took notice
of two stray Syrians,
ejected foam of the earth.
Now we live on this edge
of an angry channel

where date trees would wither
under snow that falls like smog,
slowly erasing us from all records.
We scrape the animals from our eyes,

bum dimes from dark hats
heavy with hatred,
sleep in tarpaulin bags
full of damp families.
My son, I kindle the hope that warms in you
to keep me moving closer,
back to life.

But when you shut your eyes
to the sound of the trains
rolling out of reach in the night,
and I’m left alone with all my loss,
then I see only the walls that shut us out,
and the high fences
that pen us in.