I’d carried a list too long for two hands to finish
Too many yeses said to too many people before our family trip
I couldn’t please them all that day and my heart raced with the knowing
I tried to find a space to let me back into the traffic home, but no one paused
I saw a car with a cross hung on the rearview mirror. She would let me in
That’s the kind of heavenly patience to give room, isn’t it? But she
passed me by like the other’s, and I got angry at her for ordinary humanness
That devotion to notions and orderly church visits. That false claim of good
behavior in favor of a moral code that left most men to bleed slowly.
I threw the car into reverse and stomped hard on the gas.
The car slammed into a wooden post. The hatchback glass
shattered and fell, and I was left with the cold
wind and shock. No one stopped. Not even the car with the cross
on the rearview mirror. I tried to drive but fear kept me swerving
so I parked in the only free spaces of the strip mall lot
in front of Halal Grocery Spot. I thought
I’d cry alone until I was empty, but I opened my eyes to the flapping
A flock of black hijab in the rearview mirror like crows taking flight. And their language, the ancient curling words that purred sympathy with no need of translation.A woman opened my car door. She pressed her warm hand on my forehead
the way my mother had when I was home sick as a girl.
This refugee in veiled beauty and me in a thin tank top. Our opposing presumptions of femininity tug of war between a new world where fortunes are made and an old country where fortunes are read in tea leaves and the practice of wordless speech
when strangers can see nothing but wide brown eyes. She’d paused
her busy life to touch me with her hand of foreign spice and yellow palm and didn’t leave until I was cured of myself.
She hid her face from men, but I’d been
the one invisible to my own kind.
A few years ago, I crashed my car into a utility pole in a parking lot. Although many people glanced through my shattered back window, no one stopped to help me. A group of Muslim women came in black hijab. They opened my door, and although no one spoke much English, they didn’t hesitate to reach out a hand to soothe and touch me until I felt calm enough to drive home.
As much as I can, I’ve been following the refugee crises on Lesvos. Considering the poetic history of the island, it seemed important to share my poem, and my thoughts on refugees. All of my ancestors came to America, where I now live educated, safe and comfortable, due to either religious, economic or political persecution. I could not imagine the life I have today were it not for immigration. To ignore contemporary refugees seems to me to be turning my back on my own ancestors.
When I started to work on pictures to go with this poem, I originally intended to wrap myself in blankets, symbolic of the dry, warm blankets given to Syrian refugees when they reach the Lesvos beach. When I used the blanket to cover my head, I was immediately reminded of an archetype form my own religious upbringing, the Virgin Mary, who fled her home in the night to save the life of her child. And it made me wonder, when we take in a stranger, who might we be feeding and clothing?
Thank you to Anita Wing Lee, Amrit Singh and the artist Ai Weiwei for sharing an unfiltered view of Syrian refugees on Lesvos through their various mediums. Anita and Amrit, I plan to support and share your efforts:
Thanks for coming to read.