Aviva Dautch


is their mis-match denial
or the Janus-mouthed truth
of our existence?

We see our reflections in graffiti
scrawled on walls, on streets,
on the back of a kneeling figure –

Life to the end sprayed across trapezoid muscles
pulled tight by the cuffs
binding his / her hands.

We see our reflections… No…
We see reflections that are not ours,
or shouldn’t be…

I see the grandparents who died before I was born,
see the Savta I adopted instead,
who’d taken a ship to another country,

who would always be the child
clutching a hatbox stuffed with sweets:
gifts to bribe whomever was needed.

I see you, now, the reflection of what could have been,

your eyes as you wait at borders,
in camps, in lines – the endless lines –
queuing behind barriers, your eyes

staring into the beyond, into dark water,
then over your shoulder at the burning world,
back towards the sulphurous smell,

your loved ones beckoning, bony,
frail as burnt matches tossed into shivering boats
of upturned bicycle mudguards.

And I see your reflections refracted in waves,
see, and hear, as my friend Ruth writes:

their stories, our stories…
rocking and spilling on the windy sea.

Aviva Dautch is the resident expert on BBC Radio 4’s poetry series ‘On Form’ and this summer was poet-in-residence at The British Museum. Her translation of The Eighth Crossing, a book-length poem by Suhrab Sirat about his refugee journey from Afghanistan to the UK, was published in 2021.