Calais Haiku

On returning from Calais I found I had all these erratic thoughts darting around my head – a mixture of despair, depression, joy, love, anger and everything in between. As a poet I often both express and negotiate my experiences through writing, but Calais was such a collection of extremes that I found the only form that worked for me in this instance was one I rarely use: haiku.

Most of the following were written the week after I got home and was struggling to readjust.  Although organised roughly into three sections, their roughness, brevity and the scattered links between them are the closest I’ve come to articulating a feeling I know many others share of confusion after working in a situation like Calais for the first time.

Calais Haiku


Cycle 1: Us


A single glove lies

beneath fresh mud. A hand

outstretched towards you


New rain makes fresh hell,

fresh wind brings newcomers

and blankets are scarce


Stones roll past Sarwan’s

tent flap. His eyes bear the pain

of 12,000 more


A dim light flashes

from the Afghan club tonight –

ports in lonely storms


Rommel sits alone.

He is never alone, he

is always alone


Zimarko carries

supplies to the school he builds

though he has no house


Mahmoud gives to me

his last remaining sugar.

He is proud to do so.


She clutches my arm

this tiny, laughing girl child

I’ve only just met


The doctors have left

even they see no reason

to keep us alive


Wassim sees angels

in the smallest acts of love

he still hopes, somehow


Cycle 2: Walls

If the doors stay closed

my family will die here.

The walls are weapons.


Inshallah in U

K, Inshallah we’ll meet on

Earth, as in heaven.


I hope that the dirt

on my feet, my hands, my hair

never leaves my mind.


Tampons can light fires

wet hair can wash hands clean

I can make you smile.


If love were passports

this place would vanish forever

under its own weight.


Cycle 3: Bible

This God commands you,

love the stranger as yourself,

for you too once fled.


Show kindness and love

to widow, orphan, the lost;

render true judgements.


You gave me a drink,

you sheltered and fed angels

thinking they were men.


Listen for the deaf,

speak for the mute, defend those

who are defenceless.


Cities of refuge

are being prepared for them

who love in their loss


There are many tongues,

many voices on this earth –

none without meaning.


God is my refuge,

for in the lands of the earth

here I have found none.


You can own the world

but if you see need and turn,

you are a pauper.


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