Cabri mort n'a pas peur du couteau.*
~ African Proverb
Yet again the cold sea shudders,
off-loads and sinks in the swells
three decks of off-balanced cargo.
Gone with a wave; unseen by candle
light on distant shore. Their gateway
leads but one way; Europe's another.
We can say that eight hundred are dead.
Some ten-year-olds, some twelve.
They float like Ophelia: volte-face.
They are Eritreans, Syrians, Somalians.
They come from Mali, Gambia, Tunisia,
Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh.
Who thinks to document this surge
of names now numbers. The only way
you stop the deaths is, you stop the boats.
Locked in the hull, the smuggled seek
to sail through the window of calm,
behind them more boarders breaching
the borders—all the Mediterranean
become a boneyard. This boat shifts;
that one rocks. The side going down goes
down in distress, the water welcoming
what Europe turns back with crossed
arms. Their captain: he survives.
These were their options—bread,
a bowl of rice, a potato. The dead need
nothing. But then you're heard to say,
We brought flowers to remember.
* A dead goat doesn't fear the butcher's knife.
I wrote this poem in response to the horrible loss of life—some 800 are thought to have died—in the Mediterranean Sea, where a boat with smuggled migrants sank off the Libyan coast. The sentences in italics are direct quotes found in a variety of news stories, including excellent coverage abroad, especially in The Guardian and Telegraph. Hundreds continue to die as they try to make their way from Africa, across the Mediterranean, to sanctuary in Europe, the continent that does not want them.
The poem was published at Philadelphia Review's Philly Books & Culture blog on May 6.