Poetry / March 2012 (Issue 16)

The Refugees Are Here

by Vinita Agrawal

The refugees are here...
             the air around them is wilted
             the smell around them is of a baby's mouth freshly
weaned from mother's milk
or of outdoors and animals churned heavily with winds
their eyes are realgar red
                              roughly snatched from a grandfather's forehead pat
that was either a blessing or a goodbye
Sometimes mountains are defeated by intent
and the modest flat soil beneath one's feet rears like
                                           a mountain at every step
with such steps the refugees are here

The hidden turquoise in the abandoned gorges
sheds flecks of blue in the lakes
                               crying into wherever it sees water
or just burns into blue ash with the pain of exodus
                                people and their earth are one
they ought nought to be parted else
orphaned stones cry

The enemy has ravaged modest dwellings at gunpoint
the way swords demolish cobwebs
can guns talk for sixty years
                                          can guns act deaf for so long
all the while barley roasted for Tsampa[1]
has been packed into sacks
                                           and loaded on the backs of hearts barely beating
backs that dip like a dead donkey’s saddle
                                yes, animals give up more easily than humans
man is a victim of his soul

A young child lifts up his blistered, bleeding foot and says
Popo la[2], "I don't want to go anywhere.
You are my home!"
How does then a father explain
to his child’s face showing clear pain
                                   That when a homeland has been snatched
just a home is not enough
a home is not enough if it is on borrowed earth
that their soil no longer begs for their sweat
                                                only for their blood
Heavenly snow falls in tufts of understanding
it wraps his tiny blistered feet
till it swirls inside the boy's tired eyes
                              the father bends low    
death and parting
have entered the roasted barley sacks
                                       that he will never eat again
hungry, empty
the refugees are here
only to keep alive the stories of their land
through chapped, charred lips
                                       that dried up kissing loved ones goodbye.
[1] Tsampa: a type of roasted flour, a food staple of Tibetans.
[2] Popo la: the Tibetan term for father, with a suffix of respect.
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