‘Sleep has left me’ she said and I,
catching her cadences, looked up:
saw tired eyes and rough hands,
worn clothes, neat for the visit.
‘It began’ she said ‘with the war’.
Young, dark eyed, a poet and teacher
leaving her sun struck city before
the tanks, going west, empty handed
Small jobs, hard work, scorn and disrespect.
The clumsy dysphasia that
ties the tongue of all immigrants
and calls compassion from their own
Young, who foresees a future of long nights
counting lost hopes and listening
to the fluid tones of our childrens’
perfect mastery: grown strangers?
Heartbreak enough, and for the present,
we struggle and cannot sleep. I should
diagnose with clarity, marshalling
symptoms according to the manual
But it is the end of the day and
I do not counsel drugs or therapy,
the panoply of my trade. Before her
I am empty handed. I listen.
‘Come back’ I say, and name a date
‘We can talk some more’. Next time
I will tick boxes, diagnose,
codify distress, prescribe. Next time.
‘Goodbye’, I say, in her language.
She smiles: more sixteen than sixty,
and I am humbled by the
transformative power of a word