Editor’s note: This poem is a response to the refugee/migrant crisis now engulfing Europe.
“There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible, as the conscience that
dwells in the heart of every man.”
“Non chiederci la parola che squadri da ogni lato
L’ animo nostro informe, e a lettere di fuoco”
– Eugenio Montale
Don’t ask of us for the word to square
With our shapeless souls on every side
– translated by L.L.T
What borders are there between us?
The borders of earth, grass and steel – sharp steel
of a bayonet or a stun grenade
that kills or maims.
There are those crossing treacherous seas now
to reach the border of Lesbos, that luscious
Greek island where the poetess, Sappho,
once wrote paeans to her homeland,
a homeland that knew war has no boundaries.
Refugees from Syria, Iraq, Africa –
they all come to this island full of ancient ruins, memories –
And what of Alexander, son of Macedon,
how many borders did his army’s javelins break down?
How men fled from the fires in Persepolis
after Alexander torched it!
Today, thousands flee
from Turkey, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen,
with only the scorching sun in their faces,
their mouths and words
tasting like bitter lemons,
while the memory of human cargo buried at sea,
or of a mother, father, sister or brother
suffocating to death in a smuggler’s truck
turns a living heart to stone.
Editor in chief of this poem is William Dane Dodge, Montreal, Québec.
Photo: Migrants arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean Sea, 2007. Noborder Network/Flickr