A Country of Refuge
Migrations by Elaine Feinstein
In late March, birds from the Gambia,
white throat warblers, who wintered in
the branches of a feathery acacia;
Mandelstam’s goldfinch; pink foot
geese from the Arctic. All
arrive using the stars, along
flyways old as Homer and Jeremiah.
Avian immigration is down this year,
but humans still have reasons to move on,
the usual chronicle of poverty, enemies,
or ominous skies the colour of tobacco.
They arrive in London with battered luggage,
and eyes dark as black cherries
holding fast to old superstitions
and histories, remembering
the shock of being hunted in the streets,
the pain at leaving their dead
in broken cemeteries, their resilience
hardwired as birds’ skill in navigation.
On the Jubilee line, a black woman
has the profile of a wood carving from Benin.
In Willesden Green, Polski delicatesy, or a grocer
piling up African vegetables. An English woman
buys hot ginger and white radish : the filigree
of migration, symbiosis, assimilation.
All my grandparents came from Odessa
a century ago , spoke little English,
and were doubtless suspect as foreigners
—probably anarchist or Bolshevik—
very likely to be dreaming of bombs.
It is never easy to be a stranger,
to be split between loneliness
and disloyalty, to be impatient
with dogma, yet still distrusted
in a world which prefers to be secular.
When I listen to the gaiety of Klezmer,
I understand why migrants like ghettos.
These people come from desperate countries
where flies walk over the faces of sick children,
and even here in Britain the luckless
will find gang masters to arrange
work in mudflats as cockle pickers.
Why should they care my ancestors
had a long history of crossing borders,
when I am settled now after all those journeys?
And why do I want to make common cause
with them anyway? Only because I remember
how easily the civil world turns brutal.
If it does, we shall have the same enemies.
From Cities, published by Carcanet.
The Blue Scarf by Roma Tearne from the collection The Dark Side Of The World
It was cool on the beach. And empty. The fishermen had already gone leaving only the marks from their boats in a long unbroken line on the sand. We stood, half hidden by a coconut tree and stared out to sea. Stared at the thin blue line that signified eternity. I sensed without hearing that Kirthika was crying but I didn’t turn round. I knew what she was thinking.
That on this beach a girl was raped by the army. That on this beach a man was killed. That blood was spilt in our name and the names of all the people of this island.
That we loved this place. That nowhere else on earth would ever be home. Eyes, I thought, look your last.
Further up the coast a festival was in progress. The rich and the famous from western nations were in attendance. For a few brief days they too could stand looking at the horizon line. But they would never see what we saw in that moment. They could not love this land as passionately as we did. How could the tailorbird’s call signify anything special to them? For us it is the birdsong of childhood, heralding a lullaby at twilight, a mother’s hand stroking her son’s head. Part of a young girl’s dreams. No the tailorbird could not mean all this to the visitors on the island.
Kirthika was crying in earnest by now. From the corner of my eye I saw her, head bent, like a young girl. Like the girl from long ago, whose hand I had so insistently asked for in marriage. We did not know then the things we know now.
‘We’d better go,’ I told her.
The sea moved restlessly and somewhere in the distance a train rushed past.
‘Come, Kiri,’ I said. ‘Come, come.’
And we went back to the house, our footprints in the sand. We were people who had seen too much and must therefore be killed.The Blue Scarf by Roma Tearne from the collection The Dark Side Of The World