Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Out of Suffering"

This poem is spillover from the December 3, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It also fills the "Trauma" square in my 6-4-18 "Dark Fantasy" card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure. This poem belongs to the Rutledge thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem features escape from a war zone, which may disturb some readers. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. This is hardcore hurt/comfort. It features canon-atypical violence, protests leading to violent uprisings, anxiety, societal collapse, those who know history are doomed to watch the ignorant repeat it, several people who lost all their relatives, house fire, school destroyed, rubble and ruins, heartbreak, loss of home, starting over from scratch, failed attempts to escape, despair, wounded people, beggars, graphic portrayal of injuries and death, orphaning, head injury, messy medical details, scars, refugees, traumatic stress, unintended leadership, and other mayhem. However, the main characters come to a safe place in the end. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. It's a major piece of backstory for the leader of the Syrian refugees, so skipping it would leave a gap, but the concept will likely be summarized elsewhere.


"Out of Suffering"

[Tuesday, March 15, 2011]

When the protest began in Damascus,
Ibrahim Khaled felt that it would get very bad.

News came in from Aleppo of uprisings
there as well, increasing his anxiety.

As a history teacher, he knew
the signs of societal collapse.
He warned his friends and
family, and they made what
preparations they could.

It wasn't enough.

Ibrahim lost an uncle
the first week, a cousin
not long after that, and when
the armed insurgency broke out
in July, he was the only survivor
of what had been a big family.

His house had burned down,
leaving nothing for him to salvage.

The school where he worked
was reduced to so much rubble,
its students scattered far and wide.

If he wanted to have a life again,
a family, he would have to start
from scratch, and Damascus was
no longer a good place for that.

It broke his heart to admit it,
but lying to himself wouldn't
make matters any different.

Ibrahim thought about his options.

He was close to Israel and Lebanon,
but they were bad places to go.

He needed to get into Europe,
which mean going north to Turkey,
or better yet west through Cyprus.

Ibrahim scrounged what he could
and set off on the long journey.


[Thursday, January 5, 2012]

It had taken months of hard travel,
but in early January, Ibrahim
reached the city of Tartous.

It was the second-largest port
in Syria after Latakia to the north.

The city also faced Cyprus to the west,
one possible gateway to Europe.

Ibrahim checked the docks, but
most of the boats demanded
a visa which he did not have.

He knew that there were boats
which smuggled people out --
there were always ways out of
a place if you know where to look --
but he could not find any of them.

The smugglers must be between trips,
and waiting a few days showed no sign
of their return, so he pressed onward.


[Wednesday, March 28, 2012]

Ibrahim made it to Latakia
just as the first signs of spring
began to show in the landscape.

He heard rumors of a ceasefire,
but he put no stock in those.

Peace might break out for
a little while, but it could not last.

The wounds in the country ran
too deep, the tempers too hot;
the war would likely rage on for
years, not peter out in months.

Latakia had suffered protests
and intermittent fighting, not as
bad as Damascus but enough that
the wounded and bereft shuffled
through its streets or sat on corners
and begged for food and coins.

Fights broke out now and then,
once right in front of him.

As soon as the shooting
stopped, Ibrahim rushed
forward to see if he could
do anything to help.

Bodies littered the street,
and a young boy wept over
the remains of two men.

"My name is Ibrahim,"
he said as he crouched
beside them. "Who are you?"

"Darwish," the boy said.
"These are my father and
my uncle, they're all the family
that I had left, but now --"

"They are dead, and you
are alive," Ibrahim said gently.
"Come with me. It isn't safe here."

It wasn't safe anywhere, but
the scene of a recent skirmish
was even worse than usual.

"We were heading toward
the docks," Darwish said.
"Father told me we could
hire a boat to get away."

"I too am going to the docks,
so you may come with me,"
Ibrahim said. "Did your father
or uncle have any money?"

Darwish nodded. "A little."

"Then take it with you to buy
a ticket," Ibrahim said. "We will
say a prayer for them on the boat."

It was a sad, messy job to search
the bodies for their money, but
Ibrahim soon found it and
handed it over to Darwish.

They found a boat that would take
people to Cyprus without papers,
but even pooling their funds, they
had only enough for one person.

"It is no use, the smugglers are
too greedy," Ibrahim told Darwish.
"We will have to go out through
Turkey instead. We can travel to
Idlib and Aleppo, then see whether
it seems safer to try Afrin or Azaz."

"You won't leave me here?"
Darwish said, clinging to him.

"I won't leave you," Ibrahim said.
"I have lost all my family too.
We only have each other now."


[Monday, January 7, 2013]

It took them months to get
from Latakia to Idlib, and
then on to Aleppo.

The central city was
in ruins from bombing
and fighting in the streets.

Ibrahim and Darwish hid
in the ruins by night.

During the day, Ibrahim
slipped out to find what work
he could do in hopes of earning
enough money to buy fake papers
and get both of them out of Syria.

Then they found a little boy,
younger even than Darwish,
hiding alone in the ruins, who
looked skinny and malnourished.

"I'm Ibrahim and this is Darwish,"
the older man said. "Who are
you? Where is your family?"

"My name is Nadir,"
the boy told them.
"Everyone is dead."

Ibrahim sighed. It would
be even harder for three
to escape than two, but
what else could he do?

"Come with us," he said.
"It is better to be together
than to be alone in the world."

Then the shooting broke out again.

Ibrahim snatched up Nadir,
grabbed Darwish's hand,
and ran for their lives.

Something struck
his head, and he fell.

Only the crying boys
got him to his feet again,
head ringing and blood
pouring down his face.

Darwish had a cut under
his right eye, too, and
long deep gouges
down his arm that
would probably scar.

Nadir was scraped and
bruised, but not as badly.
Both of them had protected
him as best they could.

"White Helmets!"
Darwish said, pointing.

"Thank Allah," Ibrahim said.
Boys in tow, he staggered
into the crowded aid station.

The medic took his name
and then asked him,
"Are these your sons?"

"They are now," Ibrahim said.
"Please, take care of them first."

But the White Helmet insisted on
seeing to him instead, beckoning
a nurse to tend the children.

Ibrahim struggled to answer
questions, but he could barely
see to count the fingers that
waved insistently in front of him.

"It is no use, you have a concussion
and I can't even tell how bad it is,
let alone treat it here," the medic said.
"You need be in a real hospital."

Ibrahim gave a broken laugh.
"If there are any left whole."

"We can put you on a flight
to Greece," the medic said.
"All I need is your consent."

Ibrahim's heart leaped in
his chest. They could escape!

"Show me where to sign," he said.
"I will do whatever you say."

He was so dazed that the medic
had to help steady his hand, but
he managed to scribble on the page
and that got the three of them on a plane.

They were finally escaping from Syria.


[Wednesday, June 12, 2013]

Ibrahim's injuries only kept him
in the hospital for a week,
and he made a full recovery.

The one reminder of his ordeal
was a long scar across the left side
of his head, where the hair grew back
in a bright shade of golden-brown
instead of his natural black.

A nurse told him that it
looked distinguished.
He could live with that.

Greece was a decent place,
especially since it wasn't being
shelled to bits like Syria.

The economy was bad,
though, and none of them
spoke the language there.

Ibrahim was lucky enough
to speak both Arabic and
English. Darwish and
Nadir only knew Arabic.

As they made their slow way
through the refugee process, they
found out about other options.

It made sense that not all of
the refugees could stay in Greece.

Since they didn't have any relatives
there, Ibrahim and the boys could
go elsewhere, leaving space for
people who wanted to join up
with kin already in the country.

Ibrahim applied to everywhere
that spoke English, and he
stepped up his efforts
to teach it to the boys.

After months of waiting,
they finally got the news:
they were moving to America.


[Thursday, December 5, 2013]

America was a lot less crowded
than Greece had been.

The part of it they were in,
the southwest, even looked
somewhat similar to Syria.

Ibrahim supposed that
the Americans meant well
by putting them in a place
that resembled their old home,
but it just made them uneasy.

Syria hadn't been a good place
for years, let alone when they fled.

Trauma therapists tried to help them,
but it wasn't easy for Ibrahim to talk
about it in a second language,
and harder still for the boys.

Some of the other refugees
found it difficult as well.

Ibrahim did what he could
to comfort them, and like
his children, some of
them began to look
to him for guidance.

He wasn't an old man
to go around giving advice,
but he knew how to listen,
and sometimes that helped.

What they really needed,
though, was a fresh start.

The offer, when it came,
was unexpected and startling.

They could move to a place
called Vermont, which was
about as far from the southwest
as you could get and still stay
within the connected states.

Ibrahim asked for and received
a book about Vermont, with
plenty of pictures alongside
the written descriptions.

He helped the boys read it
and they talked about what
it might be like to live there.

"It's very white," Nadir said,
touching a picture of snow.

"Yes, they have long winters,"
Ibrahim said. "Look, the ice
forms a fringe on the houses."

It looked pretty, sparkling
in the sun like so much silver.

"It's different," Darwish said.
"Different would be good."

"I think so too," Ibrahim said.

So he wrote back to the mayor
and said that he would talk
with other refugees in hopes
of gathering a group who
wanted to move to Vermont.

With luck, the two groups of
people could help each other.


[Monday, April 7, 2014]

The refugees arrived in
Rutledge, Vermont when
spring was touching the north
with the first sprigs of green.

Already there were more flowers
than they were used to seeing.

Someone had sent a bouquet
to every family for their rooms at
the hotel where they would stay.

There were even a few books
in Arabic for the common rooms,
and enough in English or French
for speakers of those languages
to take one back to their unit.

Ibrahim leafed through the books
and found one whose words
seemed to leap out at him.

"Out of suffering have
emerged the strongest souls;
the most massive characters
are seared with scars," he read.

Yes, that was their story.

Ibrahim took the book
... home, he supposed,
at least for the time being.

The three of them had gotten
a one-bedroom penthouse
since Ibrahim was more-or-less
the leader of the refugees.

It had a kitchen, dining room,
and living room all in one space,
with a separate bedroom and
bathroom for Ibrahim.

What had once been
a maid's bedroom now had
bunk beds for the boys, with
a tiny bathroom of their own.

A plain glass vase with
tulips of three different colors
sat on the dining room table.

It wasn't fancy, but it was
cheerful, and Ibrahim
found himself trying
to remember what it
felt like to smile.

They might have
come out of suffering,
and they would have
to rebuild everything
from scratch, but he
thought they had found
a good place to do so.

From the bedroom,
Ibrahim heard something
that might have been a giggle.

They boys were young;
they would recover.

Even if all of them bore
scars, they were strong souls,
because they had survived.

They would learn to thrive here.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the notes appear elsewhere.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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