Like a Tortoise

Artist

Karima Brooke

Category

Literature

Created on

A friend’s persistence can offer a glimmer of hope, a lifeline. Actually, maybe that person doesn’t even have to be a friend yet - maybe it could be you who stretches out the hand of friendship to an exile?

Like a Tortoise


Saeed did not throw pebbles at my window

instead, my phone buzzed its WhatsApp tone

I pushed it under the lumpy pillow

wedged it under the headrest which smells of someone 

and looked out of the window -

no flat roofs with washing, chickens,

rabbits and a place to sit in peace

just grey sky, grey slate, backyards brick-walled

if my wife were here now she’d go

Silly you, of course there’s no washing;

there’s not enough sun

like a tortoise confronted with its enemy

I draw my head in, under the duvet

the mobile sounds its Facebook alert

with news from home or somewhere

along that trajectory of belief to denial

Saeed had said Use your calendar, man!

 I refuse to use the calendar

but I don’t write on the walls, I don’t cut my arms

one day, not this month, not this year

there’ll be figs and pomegranates again

the WhatsApp ring resumes

Okay, alright, I forgot- 

give me a minute, Saeed.

This poem tells a simple story of a refugee or asylum-seeker, maybe from Syria, in the back bedroom of a terraced house in a city like Coventry. His friend, Saeed ( which means Happy in Arabic) is trying to persuade him to get out of bed and come out. Eventually, the friend’s persistence pays off and he does. The poem is based on a translation by and about a refugee from an earlier wave of refugees, from Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. I’ve updated the setting and the technology- but the central message is the same, that a friend’s persistence can offer a glimmer of hope, a lifeline. Actually, maybe that person doesn’t even have to be a friend yet - maybe it could be you who stretches out the hand of friendship to an exile?

I began by translating poetry (mainly from Urdu and Spanish) then went to a poetry translation workshop and realised I actually enjoyed writing my own poetry! I’m interested in the theme of exile and refugees and have written poems about Ovid, who died in exile 2000 years ago, to a sonnet inspired by a photo of a little Afghan child waiting to get on the plane to leave Kabul. I also write about less serious things, such as not wanting to be turned into a squirrel, and that Shakespeare should basically get a life and stop moaning (in his Sonnets, of which I’ve written modern responses to all 154). I also paint and make textile collages.

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