a blog about faith and life by Rev. Cindy Maddox

Posts tagged ‘asylum’

Breathe

Click this link to hear the poem read:

https://soundcloud.com/cinshop/breathe

gunsAnother week, another shooting.

Another day, another shooting.

Another campus / theater / mall, another shooting.

And I am sick.

I am sick of the bloodshed, the flood red

wave that crashes again and again

as if gravity were guns

and we were powerless to stop the tide.

I am sick of witness accounts and fatality counts and

“thoughts and prayers” going out

to families who vow to change the system

when we all know the system is rigged,

the Kool-Aid already swigged

in mugs that proclaim

“Happiness is a warm gun.”

I thought twenty would be enough.

I thought twenty first-graders would be enough

to make even the most trigger-happy fingers

drop their guns in horror.

But apparently we Americans love assault rifles more

than trifles

like living past age six.

I thought twenty would be enough,

but we’ve had 986 mass shootings since

and I hate using a number because this poem will be wrong tomorrow.

I can’t write as fast as they shoot.

In response, our bought-and-sold leaders point fingers at our borders,

point fingers at those seeking asylum

when we cannot even seek shelter in our churches

without guns taking our breath away.

There has to be a better response than sitting in my basement writing poetry.

There has to be a better response than sitting and claiming impotency.

There has to be a better response than

silence.

But I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

Excuse the profanity

but do not excuse what is truly profane:

a nation kneeling at the altar of arsenals,

a nation praying to the god of guns and glory

hallelujah.

I don’t know how to say “enough.”

So I sit in my basement with the baby monitor turned up

and I listen to my children breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

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I can’t stop thinking about you

I can’t stop thinking about you. And I don’t even know your name.

We met on the playground. Your young sons were friendly and open—eager, it seemed, for companionship. My son can be a little shy, but right away he was running and laughing with his new friends. My daughter became the instant big sister to the group.

Watching them play together, I couldn’t help but notice the contrasts. Your boys, ages 3 and 5, have dark eyes and dark skin. Our daughter, age 13, has blue eyes and fair skin. Our son is in the middle, his Latino heritage showing in his brown eyes and light brown skin. None of this seemed relevant to them. They only cared about whose turn it was to be the monster and who had the better roar.

You seemed happy for conversation but not pushy. We easily could have ignored you if we had wanted to. I don’t know why I didn’t want to.

I think it was your posture that intrigued me. There was something regal about you as you sat on top of the monkey bars. Something proud. And at the same time, something beaten. Like you were a princess who lost her kingdom, or a lioness worried that she couldn’t protect her cubs.

You didn’t offer much at first—just an apology if your English wasn’t perfect because you are from a country that speaks French. You didn’t even share your name when we told you ours. Slowly I learned that you left your country because of the violence. You didn’t say so, but I know enough to realize that if you had stayed, your sons would be carrying guns before they were old enough to shave. You said you were afraid of Maine at first, afraid of you and your boys dying in the cold. You went through your meager savings in a warmer state and then headed here because you heard that we were kinder here in Maine. You had no way of knowing that the same politics driving the state you first landed in would spread here as well. And now you have nothing. Your visa has expired. You cannot work. You are living in a shelter. You have no idea when your asylum case will be heard. “We may have to leave,” you say at last, “because things have changed here.” Where will you go? You shake your head and shrug.

I look at our boys, more alike than different, and I am painfully aware of how different their circumstances. My son is currently a ward of the state, part of the foster care system. A whole tribe of people have worked for three years to get him into a safe, loving home. Our home. Your sons have nobody but you. My son pauses to drink from his smoothie, unaware of how thirsty his new friends are, how thirsty their souls are for what a smoothie cannot provide. My daughter notices there are no other cups or bottles around the playground. She gives them what is left of hers.

I try to think of how to help you. None of my ideas get past my lips because I realize how absurd they would sound to you, how truly limited your options are. So I give what I have: a listening ear, an apology for what you have experienced in our country and our state, the cash in my wallet, and a phone number to a place where you can get free clothes. I don’t know what else to do. I feel helpless. And I realize that’s what we have in common: a sense of helplessness in the face of the system. That, and a desire to protect our children from all the monsters.

As we begin to pull out of the parking lot, my daughter realizes she has an unopened bag of chips from her lunch. She jumps out and gives them to you. My son starts to cry because he wanted those chips. I explain to him that his new friends don’t have any chips, and we have more at home. I explain that they don’t have much to eat. I tell him they don’t even have a place to live. He says, “They could live with us.”

I know it’s an impractical solution. We’re still adjusting to life with four of us instead of three, and our home isn’t that big. Even as the thought occurs to me, I laugh at the absurdity. We have almost 600 square feet per person, and they have – what? A place to sleep that they can’t even call their own.

It’s an impractical solution because there are hundreds, thousands, in our community just like you. You just are real to me because I met you on the playground and our children played together and I liked you.

I came to the office this morning expecting to find a voicemail from you. The number I gave you for free clothes was at my church. You know you can reach me here. I expected you to call asking for more help. I am relieved that you didn’t because I don’t know what else to do for you. I am disappointed that you didn’t because what I gave you was so small, and I should be able to do better. I am ashamed that you didn’t because today I read “When did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?” 

I can’t stop thinking about you. And I don’t even know your name.