My 16-month old daughter wakes from her nap
and cries. I pick her up, press her against my chest
and rub her back until my palm warms
like an old family quilt. “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,”
I whisper. Here is the island of Oʻahu, 8,500 miles
from Syria. But what if Pacific trade winds suddenly
became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel
indiscriminately barreling towards us? What if shadows
cast against our windows aren’t plumeria
tree branches, but soldiers and terrorists marching
in heat? Would we reach the desperate boats of
the Mediterranean in time? If we did, could I straighten
my legs into a mast, balanced against the pull and drift
of the current? “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,” I
whisper. But am I strong enough to carry her across
the razor wires of sovereign borders and ethnic
hatred? Am I strong enough to plead: “please, help
us, please, just let us pass, please, we aren’t
suicide bombs.” Am I strong enough to keep walking
even after my feet crack like Halaby pepper fields after
five years of drought, after this drought of humanity.
Trains and buses rock back and forth to detention centers.
Yet what if we didn’t make landfall? What if here
capsized? Could you inflate your body into a buoy
to hold your child above rising waters? “Daddy’s
here, daddy’s here,” I whisper. Drowning is
the last lullaby of the sea. I lay my daughter
onto bed, her breath finally as calm as low tide.
To all the parents who brave the crossing: you and your
children matter. I hope your love will teach the nations
that emit the most carbon and violence that they should,
instead, remit the most compassion. I hope, soon,
the only difference between a legal refugee and
an illegal migrant will be how willing
we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and
carry each other towards the horizon of care.
Copyright © 2016 by Craig Santos Perez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.