Use no names. Roads
have been whited out,
redacted. Hone your oldest sense.
Learn the wind,
memorise where it goes
bearing your odours. The truck-stops
are roofless churches.
Comma-birds on power lines
swollen by rain
there will be stars in the dark
travelling towards you,
smaller and smaller.
Trust the earth
with your bandaged feet,
the pockets sewn shut by your mother.
Carry only such things
as snowflakes, eyelashes,
for the future may not make you out.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2016. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2016 was Catherine Lockerbie.
The modern and yet biblical plight of the exodus of refugees from the Middle East in the last few years is a political/human plague which has deeply touched the heart of poets – indeed, who could fail to be moved? The only specifically political anthology on offer in 2016 was Aiblins, a very fine anthology conceived in response to the 2014 Scottish referendum – a live issue again as I write in March 2017. Amongst a wide range of poems about Scotland and about the state of our world, this beautifully expressed poem about the utter loneliness of a child refugee is a timely reminder of fragile humanity lost and endangered.
I wrote this poem after watching the news and reading about refugees, both those of today and those from earlier wars in other countries. I wondered how it might feel to arrive somewhere completely unknown in such circumstances. The disjuncture between the official story of the masses which appears timeless, unchanging, and individuals’ urgent experiences of loss and displacement, haunted me.