• ‘Boat Journey,’
    A Poem by Ladan Osman

    From the Collection Exiles of Eden

    Sunday afternoon on a city beach.
    No sand, slabs of manufactured stone.
    I watch two blondes, maybe sisters,
    Inflate a raft. They use a bicycle pump.
    One tries to assemble two paddles,
    Gives up, puts them in her bag.
    The one on the pump removes her top.
    She has exerted herself into better posture.
    Her breasts are larger than I expected.
    I want to see if their tiny raft will hold them.
    The clouds and current move north.
    As they enter the water, Tony Allen warns
    Against the boat journey: Running away
    From a misery / Find yourself in a double misery.
    I recall photos of British tourists in Greece
    Frowning at refugees,
    Greek children in gym class while hungry.
    In the direction the raft floats, the sisters
    Paddling with their hands, a planetarium.
    I wonder if it houses a telescope capable
    Of seeing the double misery on a Greek island.
    Maybe its lens is too powerful.
    The side of their raft reads EXPLORER.
    Their soles are black. If you pay attention
    To movies, white women have grimy soles.
    I have seen black actresses with exquisite feet.
    I recall my mother checking my socks
    In the exam room before the doctor entered.
    The sisters let their ponytails drag
    In dubious lake water.
    I’m not sure I hear these lyrics: Even if
    They let you enter / They probably won’t let you.
    Even if they let you enter / The baron won’t let you,
    The baron won’t let you.
    I note their appearances,
    Takeoff point. Just in case.
    I doubt any of our thoughts converge.
    What is it like to be so free?
    To drift in water in a country you call
    Your own. Unprepared because you can laugh
    Into an official’s face. Explain, offer no apology.

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    exiles of eden cover

    Used by permission from Exiles of Eden (Coffee House Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Ladan Osman.

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    Ladan Osman
    Ladan Osman
    Somali-born poet and essayist Ladan Osman is the author of The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony (University of Nebraska Press 2015), winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize, and the chapbook Ordinary Heaven, which appeared in the box set Seven New Generation African Poets (Slapering Hol Press 2014).

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