Snakes and Ladders

by Zain Verjee September 14, 2015

Published in Zain's Updates

After watching images of Syrian refugees, early on I wrote this poem. It was for a competition in creative writing on Syria for Oxford University.


I came off set one day on CNN feeling pensive.  I imagined what it would be like to run from everything I knew in one split second. What would I take and what would I leave behind?  What would be going through my mind as I crossed a border into a strange land?  I wrote this from a young woman’s perspective.  I thought it was more relevant today given the images, stories, and destroyed lives we are seeing.  I am sharing it with you.


My neighbor has killed my husband
I am alone
Omar is dead.
My only warmth exists in the fires of hate
Fast friends now faithless gangs
gag us with their clouded-coffee
Memories. There is not a Saladin here
Or al Mu’tasim to free
rusted shackles.

I trip over an alphabet past,
shell-shocked homes
wrinkled expressionless
Like my pipe-bomb, car-bomb,
bombed-out dreams.

I am a hard-wired ghost
gaping in slow motion
Trying to forget the chemical day
mafia maniacs unfurled
Hooking their poisoned tongues
on our convulsing moonscape.
I have a handbag, filled
with his poems.
A torn photograph for when
I lose my mind.
Fifteen seconds.
What could you take?

I am on a tombstone bus with
Strangers Stumbling like mummies
through a super typhoon.
Wind-dazed I sell my life-band
for no life,
A paper ticket trip to haunt a
Halfway house.

There will be tides with no waves
A river of winding souls
seeping to oceans of
Deep sea
nowhere across the invisible line,
We will eat wheat, olives, and lentils
like Isaac of Nineveh
But aimless in spirit we march.
Left right, right left, up down, step, step,
Which souls are praying for us
in the Great Umayyad Mosque?
Here, there, left, right, left, left right
What is right? what is left?

I am frightened.
Forlorn friends no worldliness
with pack-loneliness.
The embarrassed hills are silent.
no magic mawals play
Only whimpering stones crunch a weak
farewell. Where are the friends of Syria?

I cross and I am a number.
36748B, nameless, as is my unborn child.
Allah hu Akbar. Nahn Kulona Arab
God is Great. We are all Arabs.


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