Sociologist-turned-poet Becky Thompson focuses on the individuals affected by the forced migration crisis in Greece in this collection of poems inspired by her recent work in the camps on the Greek island of Lesvos and leading poetry workshops for the refugees.
In December 2021, amid thousands of asylum seekers in the Mytilene camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, Pope Francis entreated the world, “Please let us stop this shipwreck of civilization.” Joining a sociologist’s trained eye with a poet’s open heart, Becky Thompson has not only looked into the faces of the dispossessed, but she has also empowered them to speak for themselves in this moving book. The wide variety of poetic forms in To Speak in Salt stands as a metaphor for both the unique suffering of each individual she meets and also for their unique individuality. If the poet cannot stop the shipwreck, she can surely help us feel what it’s like to survive it. (Order To Speak in Salt from SPD.)
Let’s hear from the poet directly:
We Say, Salt
Salt in fine lines around your eyes keep walking
Salt in the shaker where tourists stare
Salt for flavor salt caged in yellow plastic salt to make tabouleh
In Arabic salt is milh we say salt is earth’s silk
For the desert’s pleasure we say salt in the blood
We say salt will dust your eyes with sorrow come here I will kiss you here
Sprinkle salt for tomatoes salt for when your lover leaves you in salt
When the bomb leaves a salt trail in the street we scatter with our children
Salt tracks on the desert travel at night with salt in our shoes
The sea loans salt to rocks we are salt rafts their own salt
“We Have Taken the One in the Sky as Our Witness”
In your right hand hold the color of the tribes
In the left a pencil that erases state borders.
With the color of dawn, you can cross over
A merciful god turns a mirror on borders.
For if you have crossed so have we all
Skin is an organ that refuses all borders.
We plant petunias in fallen white helmets
The scent travels past bullets, slips around borders.
Alawites in Aleppo, my family strewn about
I know now the moon cancels night borders.
If you are worried, grasp a skein of sunlight,
so torture won’t seep into your body’s borders.
They call me Fadwa Suleiman, my poems: no borders.
My body from Paris to the sky, an elegant boarder.
Arabic translations buy Mootacem B. Mhiri, a Senior Lecturer in Arabic at Vassar College.