(photo: John Stadnicki)
Here I watch the day.
The storm over. A memory on glasses, on broken shoes.
My shadow reflected
on the opposite wall
As the refugees’ crisis is widening across Europe, the public opinion becomes more polarised, with people supporting the Schengen agreement for settlement whilst others oppose the migration from the Middle East and Africa. In England, my decision to collect and deliver donations to Calais has been welcomed and facilitated by family, friends and work colleagues on one side, and criticised on another side on social media by a few online acquaintances which disagree with the idea of personal intervention in a problem that should be left to the international political factors. And this is how, on the way to Calais, the concept of ‘border’ started to emerge in my mind as my new British passport was scanned at Dover. Watching the ferry depart I thought of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian ethnographer which summarised a valid point on this matter. ‘Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.’
With this is mind, I entered the refugees’ camp in Calais on Saturday and observed the difficult living conditions of thousands of mostly young men, lucky enough to have walked or travelled for weeks in search of stability and peace. Dreaming maybe to be accepted in Britain whilst waiting for help from a country which they see a promoter of fairness and humanity. Some have been there for months, others just weeks.
Thousands of tents were spread across the camp but there were people still living in cardboard shelters, in flip-flops and T-shirts with autumn coming and the rain slowly settling in during the next months. People I met looked at me with curiosity and friendliness. One welcomed me and asked if I had a good night on the way there. Another asked for a pair of shoes or trousers. And more and more slowly surrounded the van. But having just fifty boxes of supplies in the van made the distribution impossible. What about the people in need of supplies, which could not communicate in English, nor French, could not ask, could not arrive at the van, could not reach for my help?
People living in the camp need help and support, and donations are slowly going and are being distributed by very few charities and private companies as well as volunteers and locals. Packing and then safely and equally distributing food, clothing and other necessary materials to thousands of people is a process which takes time and logistics. This positive action can only be successfully delivered before winter comes with more help from volunteers and strong support from the international community. As the European budget is spent on numerous emergency summits, the conflict between decisional factors becomes apparent and the people involved in helping the refugees in Calais get a sense that the governments have no real understanding of what needs to be done on the ground.
The governments do not have understanding. But governments, with their complicated power structures, are not people. They are, at this point, the borders. Those volunteers spending their time and resources, dedicated night and day to help the refugees are my example of humanity as well as my hope. I have heard their names (Riaz, Maya, Christiane, Vincent, Clare, Toby) and their voices on the phone helping me help others. I have not seen their faces, nor their colour, but I have seen their actions, their beliefs and values, which made me write this to ask for yours.
(‘Perhaps this is not a poem…’ C. Milosz)
And because I was made a poet
a lot of blood is spilt
on the neat grass, when I walk.
For fear that I will have
nothing to give back
I collect old books.
My word confesses to its imperfection
with the honesty of a fractured second.
Not that I mind,
not that I have high hopes,
only tall steps.
Because of this self deluded truth,
it happens that waking up in a desert
is not a surprising coincidence,
but a certainty, like a niggling pain in a missing limb.
I am not grateful to sleep facing the wall
but hey! someone needs to show a bit of courage
and say nothing
when nothing is to be said.
And though no one will remember
the poem once written but me,
after all, forgotten things are
the only possessions worth keeping.
Photo: John Stadnicki
And yet another midnight storm
Washes away the cold poetry
Born at the top floor.
I balance my whole weight
On long words,
Frozen stones on my tongue.
The fortress is shut
The town stops breathing
I count the mistakes god has done with me,
Just to pass the time.
The violent rain unsettles
The angel hidden inside my very bone.
Here, upstairs, both of us in the same body
Awake and hungry
My milk teeth, lost on the floor
In a puddle of blood,
I was just talking to you when
The sudden breath I heard from the other side
Made me think
I too had
The same great fear of living forever
But said nothing.
Perhaps nothing was meant to settle
In front on this wall
And no! the metaphor you look at now
In this precise moment is nothing
But a distraction in my need for time.
Born to sit very still and observe
The details of your small victories
I am therefore only a brief graceful trap
Which you should never directly face.
On both sides of the fence
Exactly because you quietly follow my voice
In this imperfect landscape
A drop of ink, revealed by the greatness of your half empty glass.
I do not know why the invisible angel came to me.
I did not change the colour of my hair
Nor my skin, the very flesh, the way I walked
I did not even speak to anyone
On my way to Antarctica.
But still, to my surprise, the angel stopped
And took a bite of me
Like he would bite a silent piece of fruit.
Since then, I keep looking at my imperfect face
And touch the scar.
I cannot breathe.
No blood, nothing but unblemished words
Fill my new white prison.
Behind the screen, I was putting my clothes back on
Thinking what the verdict would be in the white room
(I had been silently waiting my turn
Enjoying somehow the inevitable loss).
But then you dropped the pen,
And looked at the clean x-ray.
I took a chair and moved it back in the middle of the room.
As I sat down, my fingers just briefly touched your face.
I vaguely remember the conversation we had
But I know we said good bye
As I looked back, you waved,
Your left hand folding a notebook.
Since that day, I had been looking the word tenderness up
Just to see if you were right:
The fragility of a glass statue in front of an angry hammer.
Poverty has no definition. Not in any sociological sense. Once you face the human bones and the malnourished, any aesthetic value disappears. And with the one in agony, your own agony takes shape. The sourly tears are not for others’ pain but for your own disillusion and failure. For all the answers you hoped to get, and did not. Nothing sublime, genuine about the human nature, once the spirit is dead.
Poverty is always a matter of contrast. As the hungry has no sense of fullness when there is no water, no food to share. The poor are never unhappy. I am unhappy in the poor’s place as they can make the difference between the world’s emptiness and my dry throat. No freedom exists in poverty and no real understanding of the truth.
Once the poor are full, they do have time for questions.
The first pamphlet of our Stroud Writers Group is done, printed and ready to be launched, with the financial assistance of Stroud Arts Festival. The featured authors are Rick Vick, Adam Horovitz, Sian Breeze, Judy Newman, Tim Wilson, Paul Kelly, Maria Butunoi, Alex Breeze, Eley Furrell, Jessica Wynne, Diana Humphrey and Daryl Carpenter.
Cover image Fortunes of War, Paul Thornycroft.
Pamphlet 15is a collection of fresh poetry, short stories and flash fiction, ready to come your way. If you would like a copy, email me at email@example.com.