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'Hemispheres': A Poem About Syrian Refugee Crisis (Audio)

A line of refugees and migrants at a Berlin train station. (Markus Schreiber / AP)

Michael E. Woods’ moving verses provide a look at how Germany is handling the Syrian refugee crisis, considered to be the worst displacement situation of our time. He explores the theme from an American perspective, noting that the U.S. is a “land full of racism, too.”

Listen to Woods read “Hemispheres” and follow along below.


By Michael E. Woods


Blisters under callouses wet
and sloppy guitar strings
when the laundry is done
i’ll look over to Budapest,

where hundreds of friends
are crowded by security
forces into a square, sleeping
on cobblestone, thousands hemmed

at the border by razor wire.
(In Germany, neo-Nazis hide razors
behind racist stickers
on light poles—if you tear them off,

there’s blood.) The train
station refuses to let
departures to Germany.
The Prime Minister’s saying,

“Serbia is safe, stay there.
We don’t want more Muslims.”
i’m in Berlin, and Dublin rules
are shredding skin bare.

When they arrive
i hope my fingers, my laundry,
my chords, the apples, the wounds,

are raw and ripe.


A new complex for refugees
opens soon in my neighborhood.
Twice now have neo-Nazis
thrown Molotov-cocktails
into the children’s center.
is the word newspapers use
for the fire. Like Ethan, like
Mike. Like swoosh. Eruption.
Elizabeth and i don’t have many
skills to offer anti-Nazi
organizations, but instead we offer bodies
at the train station. Apples. Waiting,
we sit side by side and read
The Lord of the Rings in our new
tongue, a land full of racism too,
and erasure—


Michael E. Woods edits the Columbia Poetry Review and teaches at Columbia College Chicago. He received the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry in 2015 from Vanderbilt University. Recent work appears in The Rising Phoenix Review, The New Territory and Eclectica Magazine. Forthcoming works can be seen soon in Yes, Poetry, Solidago Journal, The Prodigal’s Chair and The Nassau Review. 

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