A.E. Stallings


Rubaiyat of the Volunteer

The refugees are rather chic—
The fancy languages they speak!—
Persian, Dari, Urdu, Pasto
Arabic, French (though seldom Greek).

The capsule wardrobes that they wear
Are drip-dry, understated, spare.
(But see how well turned-out she is
With the floral head scarf in her hair.)

Their children are well brought-up: spanks
Are rare—they queue in rows and ranks
For food and water. How polite!—
The one word they have learned is, “Thanks!”

It’s elegant to travel light,
And black will show less dirt than white:
A backpack and a toothbrush, all
A person needs for overnight.

They keep no clutter in their tent—
If it did not “spark joy,” it went,
And even if it did spark joy—
Heirlooms, jewelry, all is spent.

There ought to be a nicer phrase,
One with more dignity and grace—
Aliens, migrants, refugees;
But why not ex-pats, émigrés?

Adventurous, they do not know
Where they’ll be sent, if they can go.
They travel for the sake of it:
Asylum is so comme il faut.

They left their homes; that’s hardly rash,
When bombs hail down, or armies clash.
They’d rather summer where it’s quiet.
They’re chic like that. They have panache.

A.E. Stallings is an American poet who lives in Athens, Greece. In a previous millennium, she studied Classics in Athens, Georgia. She is a MacArthur fellow. Her most recent book is Olives.