Burial at Sea
She went on the boat, the toddler Aliya,
an act of love and desperation,
beginning the middle passage of risk and fear,
from war-torn country to wealthy free nation.
They stand in a ring and pray,
the parents, the uncles, the old friends,
they squeeze tight to produce the way
for Aliya to fight through to good ends.
They thought it was better, this boat,
not crowded, not corrupted, not bad,
safely able to cross Europe’s wide moat,
Thus farewells were confident and sad.
Aliya was soon alone, pushed into the hold
of a forty-foot boat with ninety aboard,
the hull, the frame, the motor all old,
no food, no toilet, naught aboveboard.
All around the headache-making stench
of dieseline and human waste and sick,
men groan, women cry, Aliya can clench
her eyes against foul air so thick.
This the middle passage – you must know now
that migrants and crew have been jettisoned.
Peristaltic waves rock Aliya, bitter winds blow,
Motor falters, death has been commissioned.
Little Aliya is quiet. No food for three whole days,
She slips away, a pilgrim to paradise,
her middle passage a satanic maze
She comes to its end a tiny sacrifice.
It’s rough. There’s no one close to grieve.
She’s shrouded. Prayers are said. Blessing and peace
and the Prophet’s words give leave
to the little corpse as it slides beneath the seas.
While in Beirut or Bath they count their US dollars.
- Ted Witham 2016