On Refuge and Language–Suheir Hammad

    I do not wish
    To place words in living mouths
    Or bury the dead dishonorablyI am not deaf to cries escaping shelters
    That citizens are not refugees
    Refugees are not Americans

    I will not use language
    One way or another
    To accommodate my comfort

    I will not look away

    All I know is this

    No peoples ever choose to claim status of dispossessed
    No peoples want pity above compassion
    No enslaved peoples ever called themselves slaves

    What do we pledge allegiance to?

    A government that leaves its old
    To die of thirst surrounded by water
    Is a foreign government

    People who are streaming
    Illiterate into paperwork
    Have long ago been abandoned

    I think of coded language
    And all that words carry on their backs

    I think of how it is always the poor
    Who are tagged and boxed with labels
    Not of their own choosing

    I think of my grandparents
    And how some called them refugees
    Others called them non-existent
    They called themselves landless
    Which means homeless

    Before the hurricane
    No tents were prepared for the fleeing
    Because Americans do not live in tents
    Tents are for Haiti for Bosnia for Rwanda

    Refugees are the rest of the world

    Those left to defend their human decency
    Against conditions the rich keep their animals from
    Those who have too many children
    Those who always have open hands and empty bellies
    Those whose numbers are massive
    Those who seek refuge
    From nature’s currents and man’s resources

    Those who are forgotten in the mean times

    Those who remember

    Ahmad from Guinea makes my falafel sandwich and says
    So this is your country

    Yes Amadou this my country
    And these my people

    Evacuated as if criminal
    Rescued by neighbors
    Shot by soldiers

    Adamant they belong

    The rest of the world can now see
    What I have seen

    Do not look away

    The rest of the world lives here too

    In America

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