A Litany Travels by Becky Thompson, Feminist Formations

The translator says: Let’s turn to “A Litany for Survival.”
We’ll say it first in Dari. Then English. Altogether. Ready?
Did I mention that I’m over my head?
Or perhaps, my head continues to fly about but my spine has folded in.
When did this accordion behavior begin?
Was it when we had chairs for fifteen and twenty-five came, not counting the children?
Or was it when I passed around an attendance sheet that came back with six signatures? Fear buried their pens.
Was it after we read a haiku and a father said, how can we write pretty poems,
our lives are not pretty, as his three-year-old daughter drew on her arm
with a purple marker?
Or was it when I couldn’t outline the basic shape of Afghanistan on the board?
Someone came up, drew his country and all the ones that touch it.
Was it when shutters we opened so the small room could breathe kept banging, each time pulling people from their chairs?
An older man rose and gently closed the shutters.
Or was it when a teenager clutched her friend, sandwiched between men
like fish, said she liked the poem about memories and backpacks, wished it was in Somali. I said, me too.
Or was it when a father explained his family receives 300 euro each month.
If they’re granted asylum, that will end after six months.
Or was it when I was sure two teens who stared into their phones were there for the free bus tickets until they recited brilliant poems in Dari and English?
They wrote them with google translator.
What about the seven-year-old who answered all my questions in English before the adults, their eyes stuck on the table.
The table floating with cherry pits left by the four-year-olds.

There is no childcare at this refugee center.
Parents hold their children close, won’t let them go farther than their
side vision.
Their eyes reach in all directions.
The Afghan filmmaker declares, I’d rather not hear the word refugee.
Ever again.
He asks, What would happen if every time you hear the word refugee you whisper / shout the word people?
What about the woman who, after I blah blah about writing to tell the truth says, with all due respect, no one can speak honestly as long as we are here.
“A Litany Travels” references Audre Lorde’s “Litany for Survival,” one of the poems translated into Pashto and Dari for poetry classes we taught with asylum seekers in Lesvos, Greece (from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, Norton, 1997).
The Somali teen’s reference to a “poem about memories and backpacks” references Zeina Azzam’s “Leaving My Childhood Home” in Jehan Bseiso and Becky Thompson, editors.
Making Mirrors: Righting/Writing by and for Refugees. (Interlink, 2019)