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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 18, 2018.
About this Poem 

“Written and titled after a Tony Allen song, this poem was written on a Hyde Park beach. I was thinking about impersonal accounts of the migrant crisis and of how one form of carelessness looks like joy.”
—Ladan Osman

Boat Journey

Sunday afternoon on a city beach.
No sand, slabs of manufactured stone.
I watch two blondes, maybe sisters,
Inflate a raft. They use a bicycle pump.
One tries to assemble two paddles,
Gives up, puts them in her bag.
The one on the pump removes her top.
She has exerted herself into better posture.
Her breasts are larger than I expected.
I want to see if their tiny raft will hold them.
The clouds and current move north.
As they enter the water, Tony Allen warns
Against the boat journey: Running away
From a misery / Find yourself in a double misery.
I recall photos of British tourists in Greece
Frowning at refugees,
Greek children in gym class while hungry.
In the direction the raft floats, the sisters
Paddling with their hands, a planetarium.
I wonder if it houses a telescope capable
Of seeing the double misery on a Greek island.
Maybe its lens is too powerful.
The side of their raft reads EXPLORER.
Their soles are black. If you pay attention
To movies, white women have grimy soles.
I have seen black actresses with exquisite feet.
I recall my mother checking my socks
In the exam room before the doctor entered.
The sisters let their ponytails drag
In dubious lake water.
I’m not sure I hear these lyrics: Even if
They let you enter / They probably won’t let you.
Even if they let you enter / The baron won’t let you,
The baron won’t let you.
I note their appearances,
Takeoff point. Just in case.
I doubt any of our thoughts converge.
What is it like to be so free?
To drift in water in a country you call
Your own. Unprepared because you can laugh
Into an official’s face. Explain, offer no apology.

Copyright © 2018 by Ladan Osman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Ladan Osman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ladan Osman

Ladan Osman

Ladan Osman is the author of Exiles of Eden, forthcoming from Coffee House Press in 2019, and The Kitchen-Dweller's Testimony (University of Nebraska Press, 2015), winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize. Her chapbook, Ordinary Heaven, appears in Seven New Generation African Poets, Slapering Hol Press. She lives in New York.

by this poet

poem

I was under the kitchen table, guessing who was at the sink by how they used water when I heard my mother say to my father, what about this job, that one, those people, did they call? And my father said, everyone says no. I see all the doors but none of them will open. My mother said, maybe we just haven’t found