Wednesday, 16 March 2016


“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile.” Ariel Dorfman

The Midweek Motif for Poets United this week is “Saints”. It seems that saints are distinctly lacking in our modern and increasingly secular society. But even those in the bosom of the Church seem to be more sinners than saints. My poem started going in one direction, but very quickly gravitated towards another. I threw it out and started again… Here is the final version:

The Saints and the Sinners

“I am no saint…”, he said,
And blocked his ears.
“My life is hard enough
Without self-sacrifice.”
He switched channels
Finding more pleasant things to watch
Than dire news from distant lands.

“I am no saint…”, she said,
And closed her eyes.
“The world has axes enough
To grind for my own neck.”
And she went away
To hide in her own dark place
Where none could find her.

“I am no saint…”, he said,
And smelt no more.
“The smoke is more acrid
When your own house is burning.”
And he lashed out and he burnt other houses,
And he maimed, and killed
Even the most innocent.

“I am no saint…”, she said,
And tasted no more.
“The kisses that they buy
Are bitter poison.”
But she took their money,
Giving them flesh and fake sighs
And hated them more than her sins.

“We are no saints,” we say,
And our souls become numb.
“It’s their fault for leaving home and country,
They are not martyrs, but opportunists…”
And we ignore their plight,
Shrug off their pain and sorrow,
Hear not their cries for help.

“We are no saints,” we maintain,
As we go to church and pray:
“From all evil, deliver us, O, Lord!
From all sin, deliver us, O, Lord!”
We are no saints, we know…
But we contest a place in Paradise,
Even though we are blind, and deaf,
Devoid of smell and taste, mute,
Uncaring, unfeeling, untouched
By the hell our fellow humans live in.

Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population (more than 11 million people) have been killed or forced to flee their homes. Families are struggling to survive inside Syria, or make a new home in neighbouring countries. Others are risking their lives on the way to Europe, hoping to find acceptance and opportunity. Harsh weather makes life as a refugee even more difficult. At times, the effects of the conflict can seem overwhelming.

Anti-government demonstrations in Syria began in March of 2011, part of the Arab Spring. But the peaceful protests quickly escalated after the government’s violent crackdown, and rebels began fighting back against the regime. By July, army defectors had loosely organised the Free Syrian Army and many civilian Syrians took up arms to join the opposition. Divisions between secular and Islamist fighters, and between ethnic groups, continue to complicate the politics of the conflict to this day.

Almost five years after it began, the full-blown civil war has killed over 220,000 people, half of whom are believed to be civilians. Bombings are destroying crowded cities and horrific human rights violations are widespread. Basic necessities like food and medical care are sparse. The U.N. estimates that 6.6 million people are internally displaced. When you also consider refugees, more than half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they still remain in the country or have escaped across the borders.

The majority of Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and Lebanon, the two smallest countries in the region. Their weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain. In August 2013, more Syrians escaped into northern Iraq at a newly opened border crossing. Now they are trapped by that country’s own insurgent conflict, and Iraq is struggling to meet the needs of Syrian refugees on top of more than one million internally displaced Iraqis. An increasing number of Syrian refugees are fleeing across the border into Turkey, overwhelming urban host communities and creating new cultural tensions.

Yet, thousands of Syrians continue to flee their country every day. They often decide to finally escape after seeing their neighbourhoods bombed or family members killed. The risks on the journey to the border can be as high as staying: Families walk for miles through the night to avoid being shot at by snipers or being caught by soldiers who will kidnap young men to fight for the regime.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees are also attempting the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece, hoping to find a better future in Europe. Not all of them make it across alive. Those who do make it to Greece still face steep challenges -resources are strained by the influx and services are minimal. Europe initially accepting of the refugee influx has closed its doors…

How you can help:

Please, help as much as you can, in every way you can, even if it is by talking to others and making them aware of the real issues and the enormity of the tragedy. We may be no saints but we are capable of doing great things and good deeds. 


  1. Hear no evil, see no evil..speak the truth and often it is seen as evil - a powerful poem..with no easy answers..the world is a harsh and cruel place..well its inhabitants maybe.. the use of the first person statement at the start of each verse is very effective - made me think 'there but for the grace of god go i'..which is perhaps ironic?

  2. Your poem hurts very effectively and beautifully. Unfortunately I see myself in it. And going to pray about that will do no good without action. And that is the horror of masses losing their country. But even here, I walk past people with nothing and go home to my enough. I just attended a moving conference called "Beyond Crime and Punishment: Fostering Transformative Justice in our Communities" which made a similar call for help to families of victims of violence and families of perpetrators and etc. In the conference many gave encouragement to those who write--like you--called to voice and broadcast the truth each in our own way.

  3. Whoaa.. this is packed with intense emotion.
    Powerfully written.

    Lots of love,

  4. Nicholas, I applaud you for this response to the prompt......sadly, there are few saints around. The Syrian refugee situation grows ever more desperate. I think people feel helpless, not knowing what to do. You have aptly described the varied responses of those who do not wish to see or hear, or face the question: what can I do to help? Bravo!

  5. Nick, so true. And, yes, we contest our place in paradise while being willing to turn others away at our gates. I do wonder, when people are so willing to reject the feeling humanity, what would Jesus do? He'd be right in there walking with them, not shutting the door. Of course, I am looking at it from a US perspective where the bigotted Mr. Trump keeps spewing his hatred. Instead of banning others, I would like him to be banished!

  6. Such a true and heartfelt response, Nicholas. We are becoming a numb nation.

  7. It is absolutely atrocious that these poor people are forced to flee.The countries are only using band aid solutions to seemingly fix this problem. No one wants to take the lead and do something effective because it is political dynamite.Shades of Rwanda !

  8. true and so real, the last thing deserved is our silence and ignorance.

  9. But we contest a place in Paradise...

    This thought will stay with me