The Flight into Egypt
One of the most well-known stories of refugees
Property of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. In the public domain.
Thank you to all who entered the November Poetry Challenge. It was difficult to choose the winners. I finally selected three poems that took very different approaches. I was a little surprised that no one wrote about the flight of Mary and Joseph into Egypt to save their son, Jesus, from the king who wanted him dead.
Lennart Lundh was not the only poet who looked back to ancient literature. His poem, “Lilith,” is based on the legend that Adam had a wife before the creation of Eve, but she was unsuitable (the reasons vary according to which version of the legend you read), and was expelled from the Garden of Eden, hence, “the first émigré, the first immigrant woman.” Here is Lundh’s well-crafted poem:
There is lightning in the high clouds to the north,
but distance cancels the thunder.
The flashes reach me, but the cycle is incomplete.
The sky turns darker, eclipses the healing moon
I am the first émigré, the first immigrant woman.
I leave as a stranger, I arrive as the same.
With no husband, no sons, the cycle is incomplete.
The clouds roll nearer. The air cools and turns electric.
My daughters and I speak our only language, and
We eat the only food we know, and we are cursed.
We would belong, but the cycle is incomplete.
The distance closes. The thunder makes the children
turn in their sleep.
My labor is required, but undervalued.
My wisdom is needed, but not sought.
Our bodies are desired, then discarded. The cycle
Silence drops, is suddenly carried away by a thousand
The rain falls, warm and soft, carrying hope and salvation,
but the ground is hard. The promise is rejected, flows
The cycle is incomplete.
~ Lennart Lundh
"Lilith" first appeared in Lennart Lundh’s collection, Jazz Me, in 2016.
Deetje J. Wildes poem is simple, minimalist, but makes her point clearly.
An ocean of people
toward a long wall
to keep them out.
a different president.
tear down this wall!”
~ Deetje J. Wildes
Tricia Knoll’s poem is more personal. The images have the possibility of drawing the reader in. We can see those “clutches of old men and women from churches” of which the poet is a part, as well as women “babes in arms with blankets / over their heads” in the rain. Despite the flow of the poem, we are hardly prepared for the gut punch of the ending.
Portland’s ICE Center As the Crow Flies
Less than two miles from the horse-race track
where the Japanese reported first for detention.
Clutches of old men and women from churches,
we gather under umbrellas, watch the line of golden people
wait in the chill to be called in for processing
in a huge glass and steel building too crowded
to hold them all. More women
than men, babes in arms with blankets
over their heads, strollers and toddlers.
Fear over documents tucked in folders.
Black-tinted ICE vans pull through the metal
fence, disappear as twenty-foot gates clang down.
Through front doors, ICE agents with guns and pepper spray
monitor metal detectors, guide people to remove shoes,
sit on a bench, be swallowed up with the paperwork:
documents, residency, translation, apprehension.
After an hour, a small woman with a brave smile exits.
She may stay six months more. The witnesses applaud.
A man here for twenty years has never been called in
before to be processed, to be questioned:
where he lives, what work he does for the County.
He seems less afraid than a little girl
with braids who burrows into her mother’s skirt.
This cold queue waits for processing, a cannery word
that once meant Oregon berries, salmon, and green beans.
Now it means people. Processed people.
~ Tricia Knoll
This poem was first published in This Rough Beast by Indolent Press in 2017, a website.
The December Poetry Challenge will be posted sometime tomorrow.
Watch for my new book, Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick, which will be published next year by Kelsay Books, as we celebrate Herman Melville’s 200th birthday.
Tricia Knoll recently moved to Vermont from Portland, Oregon where she lived not far from this ICE detention center and frequently wrote letters to judges in support of releasing men in ICE detention who had lived in the United States for many years with families. For more of her work, visit triciaknoll.com.
Lennart Lundh is a poet, short-fictionist, historian, and photographer. His work has appeared internationally since 1965.
Deetje J. Wildes is an enthusiastic member of Western Wisconsin Christian Writers Guild. She enjoys making music and experimenting with visual arts.
© Wilda Morris