Fiona Owen

On hearing of Jo Cox’s last words
June 18th 2016

My husband is out in the June sunshine
filling the bird feeder, hanging it back
by the bay tree. They have been waiting for him;
a finch is first, then a sparrow, the pair of collared doves.
Blessed are those who feed the birds,
like Saint Francis, who knew them as kin.
The roses hang, heavy with blooms,
but the fuchsia, today, its myriad scarlet droplets,
can do nothing.

She died in too much pain, that life
that served those in flight from harm,
stolen by knife and gun, her world work
done.

I watch the birds, their to and fro. Blessed
are those who build the kin-dom.

A lone feather lies in the grass,
the sunshine catching its iridescence.
A breeze is picking up, lifting it on.

Lesley Quayle

Asylum

Every day the ocean stirs,
wearing its distances like sagging weights,
its H2O, soft rills or rearing breakers,
the ebb and flow a centuries old game
of Chinese whispers,
as drowned and drowning
murmur names and prayers, their voices
widening across the skin of water
in anguished shoals. 

Plucked from the sullen sea
a tiny shoe, a dripping toy, a photograph,
the carrion of broken boats and bodies
caulking the shoreline,
the latent dreamers,
the nameless hopers,
the no longer screaming,
the seekers after nothing more
than safeandsound. 

And this is their destination, in the cold pre-dawn
as stars crackle in their constellations,
after the thousand dangers of a journey,
they arrive, wet to their terrified bones,
washed up on the muttering tide
in their wreaths of kelp and algae,
lungs blistered with salt,
their eyes dead moons.
Hold out your hands – say “Welcome home.”

Judi Sutherland

Writers Against Prejudice

For Jo Cox

I’m thinking of the man who murdered Archduke Ferdinand
and how that shot would ricochet
along the trenches of the Somme, loud enough to echo
on the far side of the world. And all the men since then
who levelled the barrel of premeditated guns
and took aim at life, as though that could solve anything.

I’m thinking of the awful randomness of a death
that someone chooses for you
without permission, while all your future selves collapse
into a bullet hole. And afterwards, the press
decides if your killer was a mad lone wolf
or a terrorist, as if these two are mutually exclusive.

I’m thinking of that philosophical distinction we all make
between nature and nurture, although
motives are seldom pure and never simple –
and how they say there’s no free will at all;
that the finger muscles squeeze down on the trigger
before the…

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Susan Evans

Child Resources

Child, aged six, plays
`let’s pretend’ ‒
whitens his face;
tries to blend.

gels his hair
does his best,
to appear
of the West.

Learns to play
with identity ‒
fears new status
as refugee:

Fleeing bombs,
running scared;
praying
that his life be spared.

In vest and shorts
he makes his way
for the border
of Calais.

One, small rucksack,
for all of his things:
Bandages, marshmallows ‒
no apron strings.

Angi Holden

Transit Centre

The man sits in the plastic chair, his son cradled on his lap.
The child opens his mouth, takes a bite of toast.
He chews, his jaws mechanical, his face expressionless
beyond the exhaustion in his eyes. His fingers grasp
the edge of the Formica  table; he has learned to hold on.
The seats of cars and buses, a rocking boat, a diesel train,
once a stuffed toy now lost, always his father’s hand.
Only the last has been constant in a shifting landscape.
The man settles the child’s weight, supports his small body
as he drifts off to sleep. He plants a single kiss on his head.
He smiles. ‘My son is safe,’ he says. ‘My son is safe.’

Sarah Watkinson

‘Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.’

‘One of the most beautiful lines in Latin, and also one of the most famous  . . .A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this. It is about loss, about overcoming the worst, but the word ‘perhaps’ is important. It may not be a joy to remember. It may be a bloody misery.’ Robert Fagles

Forsan (Perhaps) Take us, fate. We are adrift, the waves and the current decide. Home lies scattered behind us; my consulting room, her hanging silk, toys, garden tools and pans. I hope the dog died cleanly.

et haec (even this) There’s rest in this moment. As if on a holiday trip we lost sight of pebbles on the sea bottom and let the deep take us. It is like sleep, the swell rocking the boat and these packed bodies around us.

Olim (some day) If we survive we will re-root. If the foreign soil is fertile I will remake the pattern.  The children bilingual, our grandchildren natives.

Meminisse  (to remember) our cousins are behind us, our friends scattered in another boat. Whatever happens I will remember my mind’s picture of their faces.

Iuvabit (one will rejoice) Who will ever boast of winning through? Take credit for chance? It is unsayable.

Caroline Davies

The wine-dark sea

In this sea there are many lives,
all the men who sailed to war
to bring home a stolen woman.
What they lost was themselves.
The few who returned were changed
like iron smelted in the fire.

My grandfather crossed this sea,
a young man in another conflict,
his wife and daughter at home.
His ship laden with supplies of war,
designed to explode and burn.
He was one of the few who returned.

What if he could see today’s wine-dark sea
and the small fishing boats unfit for the high seas
with their cargo of women and children.
He would be dismayed to witness the water
awash with human flotsam
and would say the world has gone mad.

And blind Homer if he were alive
would tell of every drowned child
including the brown skinned baby boy
whose mother clutched him to her breast
but the salt water did for them both.

Homer would remember their names
that even in death she held on to her son.
All we know are the numbers of deaths.
Like waves that lose themselves in the sand.
Who can count the waves?

Shirani Rajapakse

A Place to Call Home

When what you flee from is
not what you want to remember, blood

washing streets, bodies decomposing,
sisters forced to strip down, gorged on like

the entrails of cattle by a dozen or so men
wanting things they have no

right to, but expect you, your mother or daughter to
pay, when what you run towards is

not what you expect, ephemeral like sad clouds
passing overhead or translucent lines of

steam rising from coffee whose taste lingers
only in your memory, when what you witness is

not what you had hoped, for yourself and the others
with you, unwashed bodies, smells of fear, loss,

helplessness, hunger that not even the dog on the
street experiences, huddling in the darkness as

you rise and fall on waves pounding through, praying
to any god that listens to let you stay afloat

balancing precariously on her many sighs
and heaves and not embrace you into her octopus

arms like she did so many times gathering others into her,
the dark skirts smothering only to vomit them up on

beaches, worn out, unresponsive, of no
significance, when what you look forward to is

not what you get on arrival, the snaking lines, the wait,
the taunts, the beating, razor sharp wires that brand

your attempts to scramble out, the sneers and most of all the
looks of contempt, you wonder if what you left behind,

however terrible it was, however cruel the sun shone, was
better than this, a living death – who can say if there

is better than here, but can you retrace
your steps to here that doesn’t want you anymore?