This poem is dedicated to the 65.3 million people who are displaced by war and conflict. According to the UN Human Rights Commission, 1 in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee – a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent. In all, there are more forcibly displaced people today than the populations of the United Kingdom, France or Italy. For every share, I will donate $1 to Save the Children. 


In my dreams I cannot climb the ladder to the divinely white diving board overlooking the Euphrates, or reach my parents who stare down at me from atop a mahogany spiral staircase, like the type you see in your Victorian period pieces. Nor can I run when men in black outpace me. My subconsicous assigns the heaviness of antiquity, now rubble, to my limbs.


On other nights I dream my arms are stuck above my shoulders, elbows turning my appendages into sideways V’s, more-or-less signs, one pointing left the other right, as if there were places to go. As if things added up. I cannot lift my arms over my head to remove my robe. A mass of fabric has settled on my face like a clay mask that gets itchy as it dries. I am an iron pretzel of flesh and joints, long sleeves, and seams. I cannot see the bed I once shared with my husband (he’s missing), or the wool carpet beneath my feet, although my toes — doing a high-wire balancing act in the wake of my torso’s paralysis — can feel the fibers.

If I could I would use screams to rip through the seams, even if I had to re-sew them in the morning to reappear a properly covered woman. Disarray. Order. Neither option helps me move.


And those are just the dreams.

We’ve reached European borders, how long ago I’ve lost count, a calendar is the least of our worries. Our mouths dry in the sun, our useless shoes cry inshallah in the rain, my daughter’s latest vocabulary word is patrolman. We are motionless. Backward forward it doesn’t matter — our horizon is a fence of wire, men and guns.

I’ve seen my daughter’s face fade from a summer blossom. I can do nothing about her mucousy nose, dark circles of worry, or lips so chapped they bleed. If only a kiss would heal.


Copyright: Jacobia Dahm

About this work: Refugee is a poem in my series Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Other Tales of Love and Loss. In search of images to accompany my words, I bought the above photo, by Jacobia Dahm, at an auction hosted in summer 2016 by The Newswomen’s Club of New York. Jacobia has documented refugees’ “extraordinary passage into Europe.”

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