Sunday, May 27, 2018

Ewa Chrusciel, Of Annunciations

Left-To-Die Boat

The helicopter hovered above our boat, dropped eight bottles of water, biscuits, cubes of sugar and left. The fishermen dried out their nets, almost capsizing our vessel. And left. The coastguard left. We drank water and urine. Where were our Guardian Angels? The oceanographers saw us. Trapped in waves, we yearn to exist. The water, left to witness. Let sorrowful longing dwell in our sugar-cube spit, lost in the waves. Shall we arrive as grebes or pelicans?

Bilingual New Hampshire poet and translator Ewa Chrusciel’s third full-length poetry title in English—after Strata (Emergency Press, 2011) and Contraband of Hoopoe (Omnidawn, 2014) [see my review of such here]—is Of Annunciations (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2018), a book exploring the idea and details of the migrant, from the Biblical to the contemporary, as she writes to open the poem “Guardian Angel of Exodus”:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

This is an incredibly powerful collection of poems that strike with such beauty. Moving through poems both lyric and documentary, Chrusciel writes of those displaced by war, including those across Europe, connecting stories in the news to those scattered across history, and connecting a variety of displacements across multiple borders, traumas and losses. Hers are poems that respond to the fear of the “other,” articulating how such fears misunderstand how fragile such distinctions really are, and how so many stories can be connected, from the settler to the migrant to those exiles experiencing exodus from Biblical Egypt. In the poem “Exilium,” for example, she lays bare those connections through a sequence of contemporary migrants fleeing war, each with but what they could carry, itself a gathering of unbearable loss:

I took fear with me. When it strikes, I take my children and run. When we ran the first time, we took a plastic bag with documents and photographs. My daughter took her Tweety Bird. She keeps her eye on it and in the evening she puts all the candies she has inside it. My name is Muhammad. I am 38.

I took photos of my family and friends when I left our house in Tel Kelekh during the gunfire. Bullets perforated the walls. After crossing the border with Lebanon, I saw on YouTube that our house was demolished. My name is Joanna. I am 22.

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