Dear Refugee

Amir Darwish came to the UK as an asylum seeker during the Second Gulf War, hanging underneath a lorry on a cross-channel ferry. In his second full-length collection, he seeks to rescue refugees from the popular media image as perpetrators or victims, reflecting on the trauma, suffering and pain of the world’s 22 million refugees, what they have left behind, what they have lost and where they have arrived. Dear Refugee is a book about emigration and immigration, departures and arrivals, longing and belonging, love, loss and exile.

Sample Poems

Dear refugee

Be thankful to the roads,
Their stones as they lie before you
To the sky that generously shows you
The moon dangling its legs in your eyes,
Say thank you to nature, to the rivers who feed
The earth to feed you,
Be thankful to life and earth
When they knock open your heart.

We want to live

On the margin of a forgotten camp
We want to live with pain
With sadness
With agony
With trauma
We want to live
With or without food
We want to live
With thirst
With enemies or without them
We still want to live
Under a torn tent leaking rain at night we want to live
We want to live
At the long queues for clothes we want to live
With every step we take towards death
We want to live
With every tree we pass
With every pride swallowed, we want to live
With or without our children
We want to live
With or without our parents
We want to live
We want to live
Because we love life.

Where I come from

From the earth I come
From the heart of Africa
From the kidneys of Asia
From India with its spices I come
From a deep Amazonian forest
From a Tibetan meadow I come
From an ivory land
From far away
From everywhere around me
From where there are trees, mountains, rivers and seas
From here, there and everywhere
From the womb of the Mediterranean I come
From a mental scar
From closed borders
From a camp with a thousand tents
From a bullet wound
From the face of a lonely child
From a single mother’s sigh
From a hole in an inflatable boat about to sink
From a bottle of water for fifty to share
From frozen snot in a toddler’s nose
From the tear on a father’s cheek
From a hungry stomach
From a graffiti that reads, ‘I was here once’
From a missing limb
Like a human I come to share the space.

What I left behind

I left that table with three books, a tea glass dirty
An ashtray
The TV remote still lost somewhere between cushions

A wall with a mixture of rotten green broken yellow light
A small window into an empty street
A lonely white tissue blowing in a ruined alley

I left a pregnant apple tree
A sink full of pans from last night’s meal
My plate among them with a tulip

I left half a bottle of red wine near the bed
Money notes wrinkled
A belt with broken buckle

The painting in the corridor
The tearful man in it has his hand on his cheek
The forest behind him is as huge as the memory it left behind

I left a tape-recorder a lover once gave me
Playing the Kurdish singer Mohammed Sixo
Singing ‘Oh the land Oh the land’

I left my school desk engraved with my name
The teacher who lectured me every time I brought a poetry book
To school instead of my homework

I left the old corner shop
Containing a debt book
That has my name in it

I left a pair of new shoes
The yellow laces I bought
To go with them

I left my mother who used to call me when it was time to eat
I left a generous father who used to bring home bags of figs, apples
And occasionally a roast chicken

I left home.

The news has just arrived

The news has just arrived
That the red wine bottle is still in its place
Unmoved,
Untouched
Half empty.

Near it there is a broken window
An open door and a woman crying by the corner
The liquid inside the bottle rattles every time
A tear falls then it settles again
The dust of falling buildings
Has covered the full half.

And I am here
I can no longer lift the bottle up
And look to see how thick the wine is
Or what I can see through it.
Nonetheless, the news has just arrived
That my wine bottle still stands.

I am an immigrant and I love life

I love the leaf that falls in spring
The peck on a toddler’s cheek before nursery
The water as it steams in the bathroom
The remnants of hair in the shower
I love life
The full moon in your eyes
The sun filling my own
I love the roads like a network of veins
I am an immigrant and I love life.

Reviews

‘A person with a refugee background carries with them a lot of memories from the faraway home country, both good memories and painful memories, but – what is striking – also a strong belief in love and in its capacity to win.’

Riina Katajavuori

‘This is a collection written from the heart, reflecting and articulating the rawness of exile and the refugee experience. Darwish’s grief, anger and longing is expressed in an direct yet understated elegiac mode in which wry humour, a deep humanity and an ethic of solidarity combine to create, despite everything, quietly optimistic poems of honest affirmation.’

Steve Ely