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Shelters for Refugees

After Brecht (‘Kohlen für Mike’ – Svendborger Gedichte)

I’ve heard, that in Kobe
At the end of the twentieth century
A huddle of refugees lived in a park
Come from Vietnam to work in factories
Sleeping under plastic sacks, in poverty.

But one night, working late in his office
The sleepless architect drew up a shelter
Also designed to soothe the threatening neighbours
And on the bottom wrote in kanji:
For the refugees.

And when he’d shamed the council into approval
Brought crates for stilts, tubes for walls and sheeting for roofs
The refugees, with chemical-cracked hands
Work-weary in overalls, slept in their new cabins
The architect’s present to them, the Almost Dead, but
Not Forgotten.

They for their part rose well before dawn to clean
Their presents, making them fit for the eyes of the world, so that
No trouble would come to the architect
Working late in his office.

This poem is dedicated to the architect
Friend of the Vietnamese refugees
(Almost dead in the Kobe earthquake
And left with nowhere to live)
For solidarity.

Olivia McCannon

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