Two poems on a similar theme moved me this week, so it seemed right to pair them here. In Ghazal: Back Home, Zeina Hashem Beck uses form to capture the pain of having to flee a homeland, perhaps never to return. Brendan Constantine's A Little Black speaks of the consequences for the children whose parents either decide to stay, or are forced to remain, in a strife-torn country.
GHAZAL: BACK HOME
For Syria, September 2015
Tonight a little boy couldn’t walk on water or row back home.
The sea turned its old face away. Again, there was a no, no, back home.
Bahr* is how we were taught to measure poetry,
bahr is how we’ve stopped trying to measure sorrow, back home.
“All that blue is the sea, and it gives life, gives life,” says God to the boy
standing wet at heaven’s gate—does he want to return, to go back home?
My friend who hates cooking has made that eggplant dish,
says nothing was better than yogurt and garlic and tomato, back home.
On the train tracks, a man shouts, “Hold me, hold me,” to his wife,
bites her sleeve, as if he were trying to tow back home.
Thirteen-year-old Kinan with the big eyes says, “We don’t want to stay in Europe.”
“Just stop the war,” he repeats, as if praying, Grow, grow back, home.
Habibi, I never thought our children would write HELP US on cardboard.
Let’s try to remember how we met years ago, back home.
On our honeymoon we kissed by the sea, watched it
rock the lights, the fishing boats to and fro, back home.
* Bahr is Arabic for sea. Also, in Arabic poetry, bahr means meter.
ZEINA HASHEM BECK
September 6, 2015
A LITTLE BLACK
The children of Juarez have run out
of red crayons. There's so much blood
in their eyes; the bodies of mules
dumped in their schools, hands & heads
by the road, blood in pools, blood
in stories of blood. Before I know it,
I'm planning my own crime, the worst
a poet can commit: to steal suffering,
call it mine. How vivid, I think, what
a strong detail on which to build.
I open my computer, the great self-
making book of our age, search for
more of the story, for the words run
out of red crayons. I find children
out of red in Pakistan, in Haiti, no red
left in Afghanistan, none in Georgia.
The children of Sierra Leon have gone
through pink to purple, in Myanmar
they're down to brown. I thought I had
something to add. I have nothing to add
but a little black, the color of the line,
color that consumes all others.
Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond
Pacific Coast Poetry Series