For Gulwali Passarlay
Small Gulwali hadn’t seen the sea,
though gulls hijacked his name.
He’d learned to shepherd in the snows of home,
bossing his aunties: cover your heads
for shame! Set out a fledgeling
fundamentalist, till harsh months
pecked at him and beat their wings.
Rare lights redrew the map: a kind old face,
a cosy stew: hope’s landmarks.
Not drowned! But washed to lucky Bolton.
He carried their Olympic Torch.
He carries his own flame now.
His new aunt-teachers on the film clip say:
Gulwali’s going to be prime minister one day.
Some background on the poem from Sophie:
The little sonnet was inspired by meeting and sharing a platform with refugee campaigner (and former child refugee) Gulwali Passarlay at a book festival, and then reading about his experiences of coming to Britain, in his book The Lightless Sky.
Watch Sophie reading the poem here
Sophie Herxheimer is an artist and a poet. Her work has been shown at her local allotments and at Tate Modern, at The National Portrait Gallery and on a 48 metre hoarding along the seafront in Margate. She has held residencies for The Thames Festival, The National Maritime Museum, Museum of Liverpool, Transport for London, the Arvon Foundation and Winchester Poetry Festival amongst many others. A current commission is making new portraits of 26 essential poets for The Poetry Foundation in Chicago. Previous projects include creating a 300 metre linen tablecloth for a public banquet on Southwark Bridge, sculpting a Mrs Beeton shaped concrete poem sited next to her grave, making a giant book in collaboration with a rural community in the midlands, devising the visuals for National Poetry Day, creating the colour palette for CBeebies hit The Night Garden. She has an ongoing project of collecting stories from members of the public by listening and drawing with people one to one. Recent publications include Your Candle Accompanies the Sun (Henningham Family Press 2017) and Velkom to Inklandt, (Short Books 2017) which was selected as an Observer poetry book of the month and a Sunday Times book of the year. New out is a collaborative book with Chris McCabe, responding to William Blake: The Practical Visionary (Hercules Editions, 2018).
Next projects include a poetry collection in 2019, Sixty Lovers to Make and Do, with Henningham Family Press, and an art residency in Berkeley, California.
(photo credit: Judith Palmer)
At the beginning was the mountain.
Inside the mountain – a spring that later would be called ‘Cold Water’.
But for the first million years or so, it had no name
and neither did the bear, jackal, wolf
that came to drink, their eyes like stars
in the humanless Cosmos, nor the storks that would briefly eclipse
the autumn skies of local childhoods.
One day, the first among us would arrive from Africa,
Arabia, across the strait the Greeks would later name the Bosphorus.
A child would bend down and drink
from Cold Water. The glaciers would be yet to come
to the north, creatures to disappear.
Thirty thousand years would pass, we would gather
and hunt, obscure and fruitful in the mountain.
Then others would arrive, their feet beating anew the old path,
and the black glistening buffalo of future centuries
who won’t stop but walk uphill on their knees
when the columns of refugees would pass
between one war and another, their lives packed in a cart.
A barbed fence would rise near Cold Water, one day,
to cut the mountain in two.
Cold Water would remain in no man’s land.
The Greeks would be long gone, the barbed fence later sold for scrap.
One day a child would bend down and drink,
his mother too, their lives packed in a rucksack, tired
as if they’d walked millennia, climbed mountains
on their knees, the smuggler urging them on with the others
because the guards are armed,
history’s bomb is ticking, there is no way back.
At Cold Water, someone built a stone bed for the stream.
Storks eclipse the sky to Africa, the glaciers
are melting again, creatures disappearing,
continents spill their people into the sea,
and though our bones are dust, we are still walking.
It takes forever to arrive once you have left.
Our consolation is to bend down and drink
the Cold Water of eternity: everything begins with a spring.
Some background on the poem from Kapka:
• ‘Cold Water is a real place – the locals still call it by its old Greek name, Krio nero (‘cold water’). It’s on the Bulgarian side of the border with Turkey, in a sort of no man’s land where only shepherds and hikers go now, but it is simultaneously positioned along a much-trodden mountain path that has seen many an exodus/ influx of peoples, fugitives in both directions (towards Turkey during the Cold War, for example). The latest are the refugees coming from the Middle East – this time from Turkey and into ‘Europe’.’
• ‘Cold Water is a mountain spring along the main migration route into Europe and that migration along there has never really stopped, since the beginning of the peopling of Europe.’
• ‘Here is an image of it. As you can see, the latest basin was built in 1971, complete with a Soviet star. But there has always been a spring here, and the name Cold Water long precedes its current look.
Watch Kapka reading the poem here
Kapka Kassabova is the author of Border (2017) which has just won the British Academy’s Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanading, and was also the winner of the Saltire Book of the Year, the Edward Stanford Book of the Year, and the Highland Book Prize. She is a poet and the author of two previous books of narrative non-fiction: Street Without a Name and Twelve Minutes of Love. Raised in Bulgaria and educated in New Zealand, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. (photo credit TD).
I am cut in three
my flesh – scattered
to opposite parts of the world.
The British Raj
divided my country
with the stroke of a pen
and we had to move.
I reasoned with my sons
“the soil will be the same,
the seasons will not change,
our land is one continuous plane.”
But they raged like crazed tigers.
And they uprooted with such anger
and bitterness I knew
something would give – but this
oh Akal Purakh not this –
Param, Samir and Manan came to me,
after just one season following the terrible
move, with their passports and visas.
Australia. England. Canada.
I wanted to tear my chemise,
throw off my turban and cut my hair
but I held myself though in my heart I cried.
“Don’t be deceived by the five thieves,”
I said. “Where ever you find yourself
be sure to build a Gurdwara.”
Then I gouged my sword
into the Punjabi soil
and made a thick cut.
“A trunk,” I said and I marked
three branches for my three boys.
“Remember your roots, keep
your faith and go in peace.”
I hugged them one by one
and then they were gone
like jet smoke in the sky.
And the tiger in me lay down to die.
Watch Tariq reading the poem here
Tariq Latif has been writing poetry for over 30 years. He has 3 full collections: Skimming the Soul; Ministers Garden and The Punjabi Weddings. His pamphlet Smithereens was short listed for the Callum MacDonald Prize. All are Arc publications. He is currently putting together his fourth collection provisionally titled Refugees.