"Borderchild"

 

Madeline Bassnett

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.

www.gaspereau.com/
underthegammacamera

"'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."

 

i.

     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.

ii.

 

     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.

iii.

 

     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 

     and fleeting.

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