In the rush of water crushed against rocks, the men grab the edges of children, spilling from the press of bodies in the boat, water up to the knees, no hands thrown up in joy. Arrival like its own new fear, every step a strange push forward. Desperate people will always find a way. In May, the Greek grandmother is still making sandwiches for the men with pants wet to the knees, the children with the tired shoulders. The women tug at the scarves that have grown heavy with the smell of salt, a child weeping. The hands hold the heavy damp in the black sway of the sea at night, and the dawn will be on the sky soon. The hands remember the softness of the scarves, the touch of cloth between fingers in the heavy light of home, the smell of spice and a curl of hair tucked away. Now, a stumble into the rock-waves, the hiss of the ocean kissing an unfamiliar shore, early enough in the day to be silent, wrapped in a scarf that smells of sea spray.
Sometimes even the life jackets feel like palls in the close terror of tumbling onto a beach, every kilometer spanning the distance to the warm light, soft cloth, gentle spice of homes bombed worthless, empty in the dust-screams, still ringing in each ear that now holds the immediate sound of a shoreline hissing as the feet hit ground.
Forget the heroism of small things, of living. Standing on the shoreline. Standing in a city alley. Somewhere, someone is leaning back against an open space. Someone is holding a child. Someone is cooking. Someone made a pot of rice, a fire. There are forests and houses on hills and flat plains and coasts and almost every day I forget how small I am (so small the stars surround me at night). I disappear along ocean fronts and sidewalks and cracks of places.
Somewhere, someone is drinking the waves, unable to cry.
The boats hit the shore day after day. The hospital social worker shows up shift after shift. The doctors in hospitals in Burundi repair fistula after fistula. The rescue workers vest up. The military crews put on shoes. Every new crisis. It doesn’t feel as important as it is when it’s you, putting on shoes, listening to your children sleep in the next room, and you’re already heavy from the week.
It doesn’t feel like purpose. It’s just how I have to walk until I stop feeling afraid. Almost every day I forget how big I am.
And for the first time in months, I pay attention to the sound of a train, ever present in the night, the way it howls through our neighborhood on the way to Long Island, a whistle that resounds in the same long hollow as the trains leaving Moscow. In the back yard at my house (you hear that we have houses, the way bombed out shells of buildings in Aleppo felt like homes with red cloth and curtains and smells and hunger, the spill of conversations in the afternoons), I stay outside to listen to the trains in the warm air. The city song of moving lines and burdened tracks, a reminder that the world sings to itself even when I am not listening (and the wind does too and the muscles and the momentum and the cars and the cries and the shake of the leaves). The footsteps in the long hallway in the subway tunnels when the people are thunder, stamping out the way to work, the same way a village somewhere is stamping out a dance in the dust heat. A celebration or a memorial.