Paper boats

In Hautvoir, Local projects, Poetry on December 9, 2014 at 7:55 am

Their overheated apartment: on the fourth floor (walk-up only). The walls and ceilings in the stairwell covered with tags expressing less than friendly inclinations toward the constabulary. But clean and reasonably free of encumbrances other than baby carriages.

Inside the apartment, the mother sits and cries. She can’t help it. The tears flow out of her the way breath goes in and out whether you think about it or not. She even attempts bits of conversation while the tears stream down. Her French vocabulary is limited.

The father comes back loaded down with the files he lugs around from one authority to another. Another meeting. Another set of papers to fill out. Another demonstration of need he must argue, demonstrate, document. A full-time job with no pay and no benefits other than the desperation of clinging and hoping to avoid a final Access Denied.

Meanwhile, the three year-old practices his skills at teasing a visitor. The twelve-year old, as graceful and resilient as ever, translates for her parents.

I read through the two interrogations. Try to get a sense of the ones putting the questions. They hear variations of this story every time a family arrives from that country. Variations on another every time an unaccompanied minor arrives from another. Whether the interrogators are inclined toward clemency or the opposite, they have instructions. They have guidelines. They also have quotas.

We’ll speak to the Mayor, I say. We’ll do what we can. I can’t promise you a thing except for the fact we’ll try.

Again, my mind goes back to the interrogators. Quotas. Who gets to stay. Who gets denied. If I give this one a Pass, who will I have to reject later on?

The three year-old cries, cries, cries when I leave. “He hates to see people go away,” the twelve-year old says, while seeing me down the stairs. There’s a bond between us because of last year’s French classes. She’s doing well in school. She’s made friends and her teachers love her. There’s no such life for her in the country they fled.

An image, nothing else. Of all those forms and documents folded into little boats and set out to drift downstream. Or turned into paper garlands. Pablo Neruda’s old dream of living in a world where people could be without having to argue, prove or demonstrate their right to sleep through the night. Sleep, with no fear of what a ring at the doorbell may bring.


Plus word by word reading through of the story, whenever time allows.


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