High Ships



From Poetry:

Across the piazza, there’s a little museum for the found leavings of refugees. Here are the things that wash up: plates, water bottles, prayer books in every imaginable language. Its curator is Giacomo Sferlazzo, in dreadlocks, who is a painter and musician (he gives me a CD). These few photographs, the odd shoe, and water-warped ID cards are most of what he sees of the refugees.

“The refugees are like ghosts,” he says, “you don’t see them on Lampedusa. You see them in Rome, in Milan. This island is a frontier—a bridge between Africa and Europe.”

Immigration is a kind of sham, he thinks.

“We’re the ones who arm dictators and terrorists in Libya and Eritrea, so we’re the ones at fault. All of this is a consequence of post-colonialism. No one cares about Africa. They follow their own interests in maintaining control to exploit resources.”

I am not going to write an article about this trip. I am going to write only this notebook, because I don’t think that what I’ve seen here, the story I’ve been able to gather with the refugees at such a distance, is a matter of news. What I’ve seen is a complicated set piece, a drama, which I’ve watched only as a member of the audience sat before the false proscenium. I’ve experienced violence firsthand that far outstrips what I’ve encountered here on Lampedusa. But this violence is equally sinister—it’s aboard the ships, it’s in the prisons, it’s in Tripoli. I think of what Wallace Stevens says in The Necessary Angel. A poet has no moral role. A poet has to use imagination to press back against the violence of reality. I don’t agree. He also wrote that reality was growing more insistent, more violent. I agree with that.

From the farmhouse porch, I read his poem “Farewell to Florida”:

Go on, high ship, since now, upon the shore,
The snake has left its skin upon the floor.
Key West sank downward under massive clouds
And silvers and greens spread over the sea. The moon
Is at the mast-head and the past is dead.

High ships. High ships. High ships.

“Everyone Is an Immigrant”, Eliza Griswald, Poetry