Aliki Barnstone: “Like many people of Greek descent, I come from refugees. My mother was three months old when she and her family were thrown out of Istanbul during the ‘population exchange,’ which Greeks call ‘The Catastrophe.’ The refugee crisis is personal. I know the land and seascape and the spirit of the people who are fleeing, as well as the people who are helping. Greece is going through an economic crisis that is worse, according to studies, than the Great Depression was here in the U.S. Nonetheless, every day, Greeks are saving refugees, providing them with water, food, dry shoes and clothing, medical care, and, tragically, burying the dead. All my waking and dreaming hours, the tragedy of the refugees is in my consciousness, along with my ordinary, daily life as a professor at the University of Missouri. The refugees, too, once had what we consider ordinary lives. In this sense, a peaceful life with food and shelter is extraordinary. One of the videos I saw showed a young boy who said, ‘We need peace in our country. We don’t want to live in Europe. We want to live at home.’ The people are so desperate for their lives that they board unsafe boats with their beloved children and babies, in winter, in high winds. One of my friends, John Tripoulas, is a surgeon on the island of Ikaria. He had to examine the bodies of drowned refugees to do DNA testing. One of the little girls, he wrote, ‘was wearing white boots, pink gloves, and there was a Mickey Mouse patch sewn on her sweatpants.’ Many of the refugees land on island of Lesvos, also known as Mytilene, where Sappho lived. The translation of Sappho in the poem is by my father, Willis Barnstone. He read me Sappho ever since I was a little girl, so her work is etched in my memory. And John’s description of the way a little girl was dressed for that deadly boat ride reminded me of Sappho’s poem about her daughter’s headband. I wrote this poem after I heard the news that 24 had drowned off the coast of Samos. That was Thursday. On Friday, at least another 37 drowned off the coast of Turkey, among them children and babies, trying to get to Greece. 244 have died in January alone. As of this writing, 55,528 have entered Europe, most of them through Greece, and now the rest of Europe has stopped welcoming them. If you are moved, please donate to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees or another group that is providing help.”
This week’s Rattlecast features 2008 Rattle Poetry Prize winner Joseph Fasano, plus open lines. Fasano is the author of four books of poetry and a recent novel, and is founder of the Poem for You series, a digital space offering recitations of listeners’ favorite poems by request. Tanner Stening also joins us to discuss the Overview Effect on Poets Respond Live.
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