Civil war makes no citizens, only orphans.
So we set out on the sea in search of safety,
seventy-two souls on a ten-meter rubber boat;
men, women, children, mothers with babies clutched close.
Pushed more by hope than the asthmatic outboard
towards Lampedusa, island portal to paradise,
where lions would lay with lambs,
if they could but scale the razor wire.
The Smuggler said the swirling waters were closely watched.
A thousand electronic eyes scanned the surface of the sea,
so that when the engine coughed and died, we did not fear at first.
Someone was sure to hear the distress call. Someone was sure to come.
But we did not know that the digital waves would splash down only
on a civilisation made of stone.
Then came the days of drifting.
Some drank of the sea and it turned their brains to brine.
Some shouted and raved; others went
The young died first, theirsouls were liquefied.
I cried to God for salvation and he sent us a fishing boat
But we were a catch not worth landing.
I cried to God for salvation and he sent a helicopter
but the pilot took away only our photographs.
I cried to God for salvation and he sent a sleek NATO frigate
Which circled like a well-fed shark, but maintained proper detachment.
Not even the hands of God were strong enough
As if in contempt, the sea spat our bodies
onto the same hostile shore we once sought to leave behind.
Even the 9 souls still breathing
are dead now.
This poem is based on the story of the so called ‘left to die boat’, whose story was plucked from many to illustrate the fate of people who set out on the open sea to escape war and poverty, heading for Europe. Despite their distress calls being received, numerous sightings by planes, helicopters, fishing boats and military craft, no one went to their aid. After drifting for 14 days, the survivors washed up in Libya, the country from which they had left 16 days earlier. Of the 72 who set off, 11 were still alive when they made land fall. Two more died on the beach.