Image by Katherene Quiteno
On January 27th, President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring seven countries from entering the United States. The order sought to deny entry to citizens of countries Trump dubbed “terror-prone”—these countries include Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. Many of those affected by the ban are refugees.
The executive order has faced intense criticism from across the globe. In many ways, Trump’s ban is the perverse culmination of the racist, xenophobic, and nationalistic rhetoric that fueled his presidential campaign. His ban demonstrates something that should shake every one of us to our very core—a complete and profound lack of empathy for other human beings.
Empathy is an active process; this is true for all individuals, but it is especially crucial for those of us in privileged positions to understand. As American citizens, we must fight to empathize with those suffering abroad. This is even more imperative for white, American citizens such as myself.
Poetry as a medium allows the poet to transform their realities into something universal; something raw and unfiltered that is accessible to all of us. Listed below are seven poems written by women from each of the countries affected by Trump’s ban. Each poem lays bare the bodies and souls of the women behind them, offering a glimpse into a feeling or experience most of us will never have. These haunting poems provide us with what we need during this dark moment in America—the opportunity to empathize.
Dunya Mikhali – Iraq
“The clouds descended on us
war by war,
picked up our years,
our hanging gardens,
and flew away like storks.”
-My Grandmother’s Grave
Simin Behbahani – Iran
“My country, I will build you again,
If need be, with bricks made from my life.
I will build columns to support your roof,
If need be, with my bones.”
-My Country, I Will Build You Again
Hoda Ablan – Yemen
“Whenever I leaf through the pages of our footsteps
I find you hiding between the lines of the story”
Najat Abdul Samad – Syria
“When I am overcome with weakness, I bandage my heart with a woman’s patience in adversity. I bandage it with the upright posture of a Syrian woman who is not bent by bereavement, poverty, or displacement as she rises from the banquets of death and carries on shepherding life’s rituals.”
-When I Am Overcome With Weakness translated by Ghada Alatrash
Nyabuoy Gatbel – Sudan
“My God is not a he or she.
My God is not a gender but a spirit.
My God is not Islam or Christianity.
My God is beyond labels and limitations of man.”
Fatima Mahmoud – Libya
“I am singed with happiness
with the stamps of hollowness”
-What Was Not Conceivable
Ladan Osman – Somalia
“I used my fingers to see the welts
from young tender sticks, small rocks.
“Bleed!” a boy yelled but didn’t wait
to see the slow zipper of my flesh
travel to a low place in my t-shirt.”
-All Bite the Bitten Dog