Madeline Bassnett is the author of the poetry collection Under the Gamma Camera (Gaspereau, 2019) and two chapbooks: Pilgrimage and Elegies. She is on the board of the Poetry London reading series and teaches English and Creative Writing at Western University.
"'Borderchild' responds to the works of three migration photographers. Nilüfer Demir's 2015 photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi was one of the first images to really bring home (for North Americans) the plight of Syrian, other Middle Eastern, and North African refugees. Demir's work also gave me a starting place to think about the vulnerability of child migrants and the ramifications for their parents, other adults, and us as viewers / readers of the migration crises. In bringing together the border zone of Syria and Turkey with that of Canada and the US (through work by Ian Willms) and Mexico and the US (through work by Richard Misrach), 'Borderchild' attempts to break down the walls that prevent us from seeing and thinking—and caring—globally."
Too big for the body the cradle of his arms, boy’s head
limp on his breast, light as a shell is light, occupant
levered from roundels and whorls bereft of substance.
A sodden red shirt, child nestled on the sand like a snail.
The bruised dampness of his cheek. That tall man
lifting the child. Does he carry him as a son or a thing
that must be moved. He thinks of him still. Wakes
with a weight in his arms, the smell of sea
clogging his throat, bedsheets cuffing his ankles.
His sleeping children, limbs loose in the heat, he
can’t stop checking. The lungs’ brave pockets fighting
even that liquid Goliath flooding the bronchial tree.
The clammy cold in his chest that won’t. The boy’s
moulder filling. He bends, he is bending
always his arms doing what is natural, picking
up this soft wet child.
Convex bowl of snow-bellied cloud, crow-
punctured, wolf-punctured, sour milk of dawn.
Rolling flatline everywhere at once. The faint stick
as the eyelashes freeze. Lifting the child from the snow
waist high, doll falling into footprints, its unblinking
silence. Her cry. He counts the steps, each one
crumbling, counts himself into numbness. Into must.
Into forward, the blind animal of it seizing his limbs,
the rise and fall, hold and clutch, all this so far
from the heart’s febrile furnace. The child heavy
in his arms, he could tuck her into the cold
warmth folding around his knees, that open
unharried light, its veil slipped across
their wet unseeing. Still, her shudder
winging deep its red breath down his spine.
Shore-slope into sea, desert heaving mountain,
the steel serpent’s ridged back slicing parched
verdance. A tight cross-hatch of metal woven
string-game into grids pressed against the girl’s
body stamped into centimetre segments. Her
whole shape ghosting the grey rods trying
to cross her out. The floral fabric of her dress,
her brown arms, dark eye caverning. Desert
fans behind her, etched with footfall, memory
spirited by sunlight. Miles juddering against
her skin like barrels of water. The blank deer
of longing hides in her iris, fragile