Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Refuge on the Island of Lesbos (Poem)

Refuge on the Island of Lesbos

      Someone, I tell you, will remember us,
         even in another time.
            ~ Sappho*

The infant arrives on Lesbos.
It is September 3. She is one
month old. Air gone out of her
inflatable dinghy, she wails,
waking the island for a ticket
to Piraeus. Her squalls break
on the swells of the Aegean, drift
far back to her home in Aleppo.
It's not quiet there either.
            The three-year-old
Aylan cannot hear her. His brother
Ghalib, five, their mother Rehan,
hear no more. They went in the boat
just before, no match for Meltemi winds
echoing fragments of Sappho's voice
suddenly silenced on that beach
in Bodrum, Aylan still in his tiny shoes.
            They, too, started out
for Greece, their rubber raft in a fleet
weighed down with the fleeing
to Kos, the too-heavy load flipping
in the grief of dreams sent to sea's bottom.
            The infant, name not known,
will learn her story in time, grow beautiful,
like all the women on Lesbos the men
dare not resist. The dark-haired boy, three,
still in his red shirt and blue shorts,
cheek to sand, each foot in its tiny shoe.

© 2015 Maureen E. Doallas

* The epigraph comprises the concluding lines of Sappho's "Six Fragments for Atthis" (trans. Sherod Santos).

The poem is occasioned by a Reuters photograph by Dimitris Michalakis of a Syrian infant on Lesbos, wailing even as she is cradled against her father's neck following their arrival onshore in Greece. The image may be seen in a PRI story about assisting the refugees fleeing Syria.

Aylan, Ghalib, and Rehan, all members of the Kurdi family from Syria, died when their overloaded boat capsized, its captain having abandoned the rubber inflatable dinghy by jumping overboard when waves became high. The heart-breaking photo of Aylan's body after it had washed up on a Turkish beach went around the world. One of the many stories about the deaths (their father Abdullah Kurdi survived) is found in The Guardian. Also see the PBS NewsHour post, "Why do tragic photos become iconic?"

For an article that puts in perspective the number of known and recorded deaths of Syrian children since 2011, see "Hundreds of 3-year-old toddlers have died as a result of the Syrian war", The Washington Post, September 5, 2015.

A lovely poem by Zeina Hasem Beck, selected for Poets Respond at Rattle: "Ghazal: Back Home".

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