In the beginning, we left Africa,
following the herds, fleeing the fighting.
Exiled, we took wives in the Land of Nod,
struck our harps in a hundred Babylons,
sang sean nos, praised God in a strange land,
found our new Canaan already full of settlers.
We piled stone on stone, our houses rose and fell;
we planted seed, but reaped a blood harvest.
Pushed east and westward, crossed another river;
when the waters did not part for us, we waded,
holding our bundles, and our babies, over our heads.
And still we walked, each step shaking
ghetto dust from the welts of our shoes.
We hollowed logs, built clinker ships,
stowed away in steamers, trawlers, ribs,
washed up at jetties, dockyards and beaches,
salt stiffening the clothes we stood up in.
Some of us drowned, our graves marked only
by the waves. Sometimes we were taken
where we did not wish to go, sometimes in shackles.
We did not have the right documents. We climbed walls,
scaled fences, clung to the undersides of trucks,
were packed like so much dead meat;
took Kindertransport. We kept on running
through the searchlights of no man’s land,
in the sights of snipers. And how we worked!
Worked with cattle, cotton, sugar, gold;
in kitchens, fields and factories, with mops and buckets
picks and shovels; wove all our histories
with looms and lace. Sometimes we reached a place
where our stories could rise from whispers
into songs; where we baked our mothers’ bread again
and were thankful. Where, using the new language
that sometimes seemed to fill our mouths with pebbles
we learned to speak the word for Home.