The “Isness of the Agony of Displacement – Part Two – Three Poems, One by Michael Rosen and Two-in-One by Brian Bilston

Thirteen Keys in the hands of Ukrainian refugee, Dina Cierkosy, 55, forced to flee Kviv. Story and Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail

The Migrants in Me

Maybe I look as if
you could spin a story at me
about how threatening
and dangerous migrants are,
as I neither I nor you would ever dream
of upping sticks and living somewhere else
and being, you know, a migrant.
As if neither I nor you
might suddenly find ourselves
in a wrong place at a wrong time
carrying the wrong passport,
with a face that doesn’t fit,
and needing to gwet out,
move, find a safe place because,
what, is it only mad, bad, and sad people
who do that sort of thing,
and neither I nor you
is mad, bad, or sad enough?

No, don’t think you can take
the migrant out of me.
The migrants in me, tell me
about crisscrossing Europe,
about crisscrossing the Atlantic.
They warn me—
they remind me—
of long, long hours at workbenches.

They remind me of relatives
who at one moment
were as safe as houses,
and the next,
had no houses to be safe in.

Michael Rosen from On the Move Home Is Where You Find It, Candlewick press, 2020

This post on poems of migration is a follow-up to Part One which featured the remarkable Somali U.K. poet Warsan Shire. Now I come back to the U.K. poet Michael Rosen whom I featured a few days ago in this blog post.

When i read Michael’s searing words: No, don’t think you can take/ the migrant out of me, I think of Warsan’s words from her poem Assimilation: I can’t get the refugee out of my body. Talk about ywo poets echoing a truth in their bodies from their lives. Michael, made a refugee through his family displaced by WWII and Warson, displaced by war from her native Somalia.

This is why I read poems and poetry. I do not have a recent sense of displacement in my body but this poem reminds me of multiple difficult displacements! Of my relatives who migrated to Canada:my German relatives from near Hamburg in 1836 and my relatives fromn the England in 1789 and 1836. And then I feeldeeply the displacement of the indigenous peoples on whose lands my relatives settled. So, perhaps, I am not so far away from these poems as I thought. And so, now, I am given a way to feel  personally about all the migrants and refugees in peril around the world at this time. Why I need poems! Why these lines of Michael’s hit home!

They remind me of relatives
who at one moment
were as safe as houses,
and the next,
had no houses to be safe in.

Michael’s words are no abstractions for the countless families in Ukraine for whom these lines are their tragic truth.

This next poem by the UK poet Brian Bilston is a corker. A brilliant reversal. The yes and no of the discussion around migration.  I would love to have this poem land on the desks of those who see those world so differently from me. Not to blow up their hearts but as the beginning of a conversation that might change them and me.  Through them I might be able to better understand a fear of migrants, maybe would imagine a different yet still humane way to deal with this crisis so often created by war. And maybe they might see migration differently.

Now, Brian’s poem(s) Two polarities side by side!


They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now please read from bottom to top)

© Brian Bilston from, the website of National Poetry Day, Art Council England. Brian’s website:


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