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Care

Care

Craig Santos Perez


My 16-month old daughter wakes from her nap
and cries. I pick her up, press her against my chest

and rub her back until my palm warms
like an old family quilt. “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,”

I whisper. Here is the island of Oʻahu, 8,500 miles
from Syria. But what if Pacific trade winds suddenly

became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel
indiscriminately barreling towards us? What if shadows

cast against our windows aren’t plumeria
tree branches, but soldiers and terrorists marching

in heat? Would we reach the desperate boats of
the Mediterranean in time? If we did, could I straighten

my legs into a mast, balanced against the pull and drift
of the current? “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,” I

whisper. But am I strong enough to carry her across
the razor wires of sovereign borders and ethnic

hatred? Am I strong enough to plead: “please, help
us, please, just let us pass, please, we aren’t

suicide bombs.” Am I strong enough to keep walking
even after my feet crack like Halaby pepper fields after

five years of drought, after this drought of humanity.
Trains and buses rock back and forth to detention centers.

Yet what if we didn’t make landfall? What if here
capsized? Could you inflate your body into a buoy

to hold your child above rising waters? “Daddy’s
here, daddy’s here,” I whisper. Drowning is

the last lullaby of the sea. I lay my daughter
onto bed, her breath finally as calm as low tide.

To all the parents who brave the crossing: you and your
children matter. I hope your love will teach the nations

that emit the most carbon and violence that they should,
instead, remit the most compassion. I hope, soon,

the only difference between a legal refugee and
an illegal migrant will be how willing

we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and
carry each other towards the horizon of care.


Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

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