Another Refugee Poem

By Pichchenda Bao

This poem has already been written.
The nausea, familiar.
You’ve been left, bobbing
bereft, in water, watching
flames eat home and hearth.
Or vicariously felt
that dread suck of time
elongating the slim barrel of a gun.
You’ve picked your steps
through a landscape of corpses,
fumbled through each level of grief.
This poem, your companion.

But who will read this poem?
Not the ones with the guns.
Nor the ones cheering them on
or silently assenting
to their menace.
Not even the ones who are carrying
their children away from their fears
toward your fears
of what you know
about this country.
This poem does not
traffic in saviors.

I was this poem once. Still am.
Always will be. And so I know
this poem is also the broken
starling egg I encountered
on the sidewalk. So small yet
with a whole yellow yolk.
My toddler and I stopped
to wonder at it.
We could find no nest,
but we did not know to look
in the crevices of the buildings
under construction.
We had not known that
starlings, adept adapters
to their environment,
were considered
an invasive species,
or the lengths that people go
to eradicate them—patented poisons,
pellets, fake hawk sounds,
live-wiring their perches,
even planting in trees
teddy bears full of explosives.
This all fails to dislocate them.
The starlings are still here, thriving.

And yet, this split egg, this seed of grief
(for what else could it be?)
won’t leave me.
I need to fix this moment
in my child’s eye.
Remember to look
so we will always see
this abrupt reminder
of what landed here
and didn’t survive.


Pichchenda Bao is a Cambodian American writer and poet. Born at the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, she was an infant when her mother carried her across the border. Bao and her family came to the United States as refugees in the Eighties. She lives and writes in New York City, where she raises her two young children.

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