The mattress shifts,
its weight the least of the burdens
on the back of the man who is crossing
the border he has re-crossed
a thousand times in his sleep—
Syria to Turkey, Syria to Serbia, Syria
to Hungary, to Romania, to Croatia:
Name anywhere bordering land
with no ocean to cross,
where barbed wire cut in the haze
of the mortar smoke falls suddenly,
like wounded doves.
The mattress slips.
Its protective plastic wrap sweats,
and the man from the town of Tal Abyad
can't help but recall how the hands
of his wife and two daughters slipped
their only gold rings
into the purse of their smuggler.
The mattress is
what the man carries—
not always the welcome home
upon the old snail's back.
2015 © Maureen E. Doallas
I have always been struck by the images of many millions of Syrian refugees carrying their mattresses on their backs as they seek to flee the violence in their country. The English newspaper The Guardian recently featured just such a photo, occasioning this ekphrastic poem.