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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 19, 2016.
About this Poem 

“I have spent a lot of time over the years in Molyvos (a port town on Lesvos) and also in Assos (just across the water on the Turkish mainland). In the past two years, an estimated three to five thousand refugees drowned while attempting to cross the stretch of water separating those two places. Many of my Greek and expatriate friends have volunteered on Lesvos, or in refugee camps on the northern border town of Idomeni. What they have described is heartbreaking. The poem registers my sense of regret for not being there, if only to bear witness.”
—Christopher Bakken

 

Lesvos

Fishermen out before dawn. None returned.
              I asked you why they left their nets behind,

but you were looking out, across to Assos,
              and maybe didn’t hear me in the wind.

We both wore the same ironic mask:
              one blue eye floating upon a white sea.

On that balcony, beside the iron table,
              a geranium held on for dear life.

All day we watched waves capsize in the rain.
              Our shoreline here: the other shoreline’s mirror.

Those aren’t nets, you said after a long time,
              but mounds of sodden jackets and lost oars.

Stray cats sheltered in the light of the café.
              We didn’t know the others huddled there.

The wind changed course and tried to explain
              by shaking the geranium, but words sank

in the crossing, so we heard under water.
              When I opened my hands, my palms burned,

as if they’d been lashed by splintered wood.
              In sleep, you told me, we have been rowing.

Truth is, no one here knows where we’re going.
              I begged you not to leave, but you’d already

slung a orange scarf over your wet head.
              There aren’t enough boats to carry them,

I shouted, so there’s nothing left to do.
              There is, you said. I’m going down to see.

Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Bakken. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Christopher Bakken. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Christopher Bakken

Christopher Bakken

Christopher Bakken is the author of Eternity & Oranges (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016).

by this poet

poem

              In the thick brush
they spend the hottest part of the day,
              soaking their hooves
in the trickle of mountain water
              the ravine hoards
on behalf of the oleander.
              You slung your gun
across your back in order to heave

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