A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
When I was reading some new poems recently, I was struck by how this one showed the universality of people displaced from their homeland. The news reports make refugees into a problem to be dealt with and seldom do we consider their desperation and individual stories. We Refugees has a first person narrator and an almost musical rhythm, so while it deals with serious subjects, it is not full of doom and gloom. There is a tone of regret, thoughts of what is lost and a tiny glimmer of hopefulness that a return could be possible at some point. The narrator could be any age or gender, actually, though my first impression was of a young person. They appear to be from Afghanistan, though it’s never named, but there are references to “a sunny, sandy place” “where girls cannot go to school” and “even young boys must grow beards”. The first part of the poem is a contrast between how the culture and the land itself has changed, the lush forest which is now a field and the dangers of music.
The most poignant part of the poem is the middle:
“We can all be refugees
Nobody is safe,
All it takes is a mad leader
Or no rain to bring forth food,
We can all be refugees
We can all be told to go…”
It points out how random and out of our control circumstances can be that creates refugees. And how timeless, too. The very places that are refusing people now were once full of people fleeing themselves not so long ago.
The end of the poem shows how the narrator is viewed by others:
“I am told I have no country now
I am told I am a lie”
This is how refugees are looked at, as a statistic, not as individual, as if their identity is erased, their family ties and names forgotten from both their homeland and the new places where they seek asylum. The final lines reiterate how it is just luck or good fortune which prevents others from facing a similar situation and offers a wish that those listening to the narrator will understand the connections that we all have, just by being human.
I was shocked that the author was not a refugee himself, but rather a man of Jamaican descent who grew up in the UK. He’s received numerous honors for his writings as both poet and novelist and is an activist for Amnesty International and animal rights organizations. This poem is not the only foray into the issue, his novel Refugee Boy was published in 2001 and follows the journey of a boy affected by events in Ethiopia. It is the mark of a gifted writer who can convey the emotions and experiences that they have not experienced and this poem does it splendidly.
Photo of children welcoming spring is from the Tumblr page Afghanistan in Photos by Bahar Aaamad