Shayma Interviewed by a Medical Red Cross Staff Member in Corigliano Calabro

A “ghost ship” carrying hundreds of Syrian refugees including pregnant women and children has been towed safely to Italy after being abandoned by its crew.

­—The Independent, Wednesday, 22 April 2015


What is your name?

                    Yes, I. Shayma. My father fell.

Your father fell?

                    From Aleppo in the rain. We ran from the basement.

In the rain?

                    Their machines with fins like scissor blades.

How old are you?

                    We were twelve in the basement.

How old are you now?


Your father fell?

                    My father. His head was bare.

He lost his turban?

                    They say he fell out in the night. On the blade.


                    He played me to sleep.

He played music?

                    I can hear it when he fell.

Do you have sisters or brothers?

                    They found them in the morning asleep. The wind

                    from the sea had wrapped them in sheets white as

                    eyes. But they were tied.

What were their names?

                    Jabirah, Sara, Sabeen. The flowers.

Where were you when this happened?

                    In the house with my mother. The flowers will grow

                    on them.

Is your mother with you?

                    They spring the flies from fly beds and hold them

                    open so I can read writing.

You can read?

                    No, it looks like stitched eyes embroidered on a cloth.

Where is your mother?

                    My mother’s hands slide on the sheet and they bleed

                    from the sharp edge.

Is she here with you?

                    She waves them like wings in her weeping.

Are you hungry?

                    Yes, when I lie under the white light from the small

                    sky in the basement window.

Do you have bad dreams?

                    They come of their own.

You don’t need to be afraid anymore.

                    I pour my flour onto a small wooden table.

You bake bread?

                    I cannot knead it without drowning a bird 

                    with feathers the color of my mother’s hair, 

                    spotted with plaster dust. It drowns, and a small wound

                    opens on the wing side, its beak is bent to the blood


Does the bird do that?

                    No, the bird draws out the sounds of falling houses.


                    With his beak.

You know who did this to you?

                    Those who sharpen their faces.

The bad people?

                    I have closed my eyes to Makkah. I am nine. How I

                    make bread? I pour my flour onto 

                    a small wooden table.


Harold Schweizer, professor of English at Bucknell University, has published widely in literary theory, literary criticism, and the medical humanities. His most recent books are Rarity and the Poetic: The Gesture of Small Flowers (Palgrave, 2015) and The Book of Stones and Angels (Tupelo Press, 2015). Schweizer’s poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, the Cincinnati Review, and Kenyon Review, among other magazines. He has recently finished a second poetry collection, “Miriam’s Book,” about a refugee’s traumatic experiences during World War II.