Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt




            You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
                        Samuel Beckett, “Unnameable”

“How can a country become a mausoleum
for innocence,” he asked you the day
before artillery managed to piece him
and his white ambulance. You know how the past
repeats itself as fevered air, grief,
muffled cries and unreachable words.
You know how much there is to fear, your weanling
daughter bound to your hip again
where she can ride as dusk descends,
if she be a daughter, she may live*
as you walk head down with others, eyes
anchored on the foreground. Somewhere

between hopelessness and the western sky
terror has kept you from turning back
even as your child watches with sidelong
curiosity those who overtake you
and pass without a glance your way,
trekking a forum of weeks like you
through time’s windfalls of war and peace,
past orange and olive groves, fields
of tomatoes, artichokes, through grey
lesions of cut-away hills
and low places, over the unevenness
that leads to Europe

You know well the Qur’an’s story
of how the waves crawled even closer
than the Egyptians, who almost overran Moses’
desperation. Turkey will not do so,
and at the Aegean a way opens
to let you pass through to the other side.
But unlike Allah and Aleppo’s rubble
the Greeks will not tolerate your Syrian
beauty or your daughter’s. Rigourously
attending to more than a thousand kilometres
to reach this shore will be held against you.
And yet you take it as a sign
that the Turkish owner of the large raft
is gone with the last of your euros, and you
have just given your last meal
to the morning red of sea swells to reach
the one-way shore coming on
to find you like a lifeline

Your balance in the shallows is co-opted
by others. A wordless man ignores your gasping
daughter, lifts you to your feet again
and step by reckless step out of your dread
of water. Sharp rocks want to wedge
your feet as if to hold you back
from the mercy of higher ground
where others in scavenged clothes have gathered
in twos and threes to share small green
oranges as though they will meet each other
again out of season, whether their clothes
are large or too small. You will soon
get your location right.
That is why you let the child grasp
your breast with a new-world hunger.
That is why you place your hand on
her streaked cheek ̶&mdash that unnameable feeling.
You do not notice that both of your feet are bleeding

Your mother always complained
about your play of fancy. Dreams, she said,
will stretch themselves to their limits like a vulture’s
leathered wings. Your dream today:
to walk your whimpering child a month or more
westward through damp and sun-dried plains
on asphalt and well-trodden earth
with root humps and snags that test your steadiness,
into red-roofed villages
where people can be found not maimed
by age, disdain or tedium, faithful faces
and hands pledged to flesh and spirit
that span the distance between them
and you. You will ask politely for water
in English words simple as crumbs from
a daughter’s broken crust, and half
understood like an old scripture.
You will ask for money for tickets
to a Berlin you’ve imagined ever since
the war roared its first verdict into the skirts
of your city: a full meal, more
than you can eat, with your mother’s distant
cousin if you can find the no-name street
in Kreuzberg. Call it Allah’s forbearance

Your destination will find you finally there
in the grittiness, pressing against the black-eyed
buzzer and the door as though the future
can be known by pushing against it,
feeling it give way as your daughter’s fingers
tighten. If your relative is amazed
by all the horizons his name has hunted down,
and if he welcomes a penniless guest and her child,
you will hold back about family and friends,
mindful to listen with greater care
than he to mark and memorize
words in the endless rush of German
that with the beggarly packet of your papers
can reach out to those in charge of separateness
when they ask who you really are

The loudest voices among the nations have said
to each other you wouldn’t dare come this far.
Those first silver strands of hair, their evidence
of memories prepared to harm, will prove
the voices wrong, and given the chance, you
will share with them your way of unsaying,
since there is nothing else

*Exodus 1:16, Everett Fox translation




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