Over the last several years of working with refugees, I’ve really tried to capture (in poetry of course) their story – especially their story in arriving in the US. I’ve tried several different poems. Here is the most recent one, which I wrote in January. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to ever fully give this gift.
If only one word stood out
If only I knew the switch
Turned on the light
And the knob turned down the heat.
If only I couldn’t read in the eyes of my neighbor
Hesitation, uncertainty, even fear.
If only I knew the tone you used
That here a handshake wasn’t rude
Or a left hand wasn’t dirty
That if a door says ‘pull’
You have to turn the handle first,
And if the light is green
That it’s okay to move.
If only the yellow paper in my hand
Could mean something
If only I could connect
The picture to the symbol.
Sometimes I’m afraid to answer the door
Or just can’t sign my name to something
though you tell me it’s okay.
If only, I didn’t stand tongue-tied
Longing to help you understand
As I used to long for:
If only I could lift the weight of inability
To express my relief, my sadness
To help you understand why it’s important to remember
And why I’m afraid that I’ll forget
If only – then maybe I wouldn’t want to leave for…home?
Whatever home the camp could be to me
At least I know the rules and the life
At least there was familiarity and family
then I think I could try to stand to stay.