(slam poem, meant to be performed out loud)
Too often, their eyes glaze over.
Mine did too, before, before I stood in front of the burning bush and begged God to reconsider.
It could never be me who would get to my feet and go.
Why should it be me? And if if I go
then I know, I know I won’t be able to turn my face anymore.
I was scared. Terrified of being unable to ignore.
But every obstacle I set up, he knocked down until
I was powerless before the fire and I said “Oh, whatever,”
And I went.
And it’s true. You can’t turn your face when you look someone in theirs
and they tell you their story.
They tell of despair.
She tells of bullets finding the back of her son as they run for freedom,
boys shot before the eyes of their mothers by the guns of the police.
She tells of her fifteen-year-old boy who still wets the bed
From nightmares, from fears replayed in his head of his uncle beheaded.
She tells of the wide eyes of her daughter, nine years wise,
watching her father and her brother bleed into the dirt
as the hands that did that work tear her dress and take her hope,
rape her and leave her to bleed her hands on the broken pieces of her mind.
They tell of the bombs that crumbled their city around them,
reduced it to rubble, a moonscape, drained of light and life.
They sit in tents, nations at war tumbled together and tightly packed
in a space the size of a Walmart tarmac.
8,000 men, women, and children with only 40 bathrooms,
2 blankets for 6 people, and you know
there’s a hole in the system when 10 year olds try
to take their own lives.
Why does no one see them?
See, we treat these things academically,
We examine the actors,
We observe the conditions,
We debate policies endlessly,
And our connections to refugees are mediated through
pixels on a screen. Words on a page.
Flat. Lacking in humanity.
So we treat them as a mass, as a herd, as a wave,
as if they are the crisis instead of what they escape.
We turn our backs, because it’s easier that way.
Look them in the eyes.
The boy who helps sweep and
can’t believe you’d listen, convinced
his family has left him.
The girl with hazel gaze and blue scarf
who tells of the march over the mountains
carrying the baby, of the fear of the waves overhead.
The girl with hesitant smile and spindly limbs,
warm fingers wrapped around mine,
Ena okhtik towa, she says. I am your sister now.
Look them in the eyes.
Give people the dignity of their story.