Issue No. 20 | Spring 2019
Ahmed talks to his 13-year-old brother
Moria camp, Lesvos Greece
guest teaching poetry at the Mosaik House, 2018
An elegant Eritrean man asks before class: You mean we can write in our own language? Really?
Greek teacher of English intervenes: We don’t really write in here
I look up: Really?
He says: We study verbs, present and past
I say to the class: Can we look at the Nazim Hikmet poem,
someone read it out loud?
“Some advice for those who will serve time in prison”
A Syrian woman reads it in Arabic
A man from Malawi reads it in English
I give them the prompt
“As long as the jewel at the center of your chest…”
fear in the room
turns to excitement
people share pens, begin to write
A young man from Sierra Leone
his spine as straight as his eyes
whispers to me:
This one in the story
that lost his whole family
that one was me
pointing to the word “lost” in the middle of the page
A young Afghan woman
holds onto her friend
men to their right and left
says she likes the poem
about memories and backpacks
wishes it was in Farsi
I say, me too.
I’d rather not use the word “refugee”
Which word would you use?
What happens if every time you hear the word refugee you whisper/shout the word people?
[Note: Mosaik House is a community center in Mytilini (Lesvos, Greece) that offers language workshops for people in in transit from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, and other countries.]
A praise poem for political poets
Thank you for teaching me when I was young to open a window, let the breeze come in;
for the thousand batons you threw out when you passed to the next realm;
for poetry the color of the Mediterranean, doors, windows, sky;
for it’s a midsummer’s night. The light is skinny;
for internationalism made holy;
for the woman who washes her yellow dress in a barrel in Nicaragua, sensuality surviving, even in war;
for asking us to write without pencils and paper, poems right from our bodies;
for cradling my cheeks, saying read it out loud, listen for words;
for fragmented sonnets, breaking the rule while honoring its essence;
for wrapping life jackets around Europe’s citadels;
for taking arrows from our hearts, audacious is your spirit.