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'Save Us, Save Us': A Poem For The Migrants Lost At Sea


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. We're wending our way toward the end of April, not the cruelest month. It's National Poetry Month, and we've talked to poets all month who remind us how poetry can inform and inspire our lives. But is there poetry to help us understand the tide of news that we contend with each day? Craig Morgan Teicher is a teacher and a poet. We asked him to help find a poem that might illuminate a news event of the past week.

CRAIG MORGAN TEICHER: You know, the news is one kind of charged language and poetry is another kind of charged language, and they're really related.

SIMON: The story that caught his attention - it did ours, too - was the boat that capsized in the Mediterranean and killed so many people who were migrants. The poem he brought us is called, "A Disused Shed In County Wexford" by the Irish poet Derek Mahon, a poet who is also a journalist. Mahon wrote the poem soon after Bloody Sunday, the day in 1972 when British troops fired into a crowd of Catholic protesters. But Craig Morgan Teicher says the poem helps us see people that the news calls drowned migrants as people reaching for hope.

TEICHER: The poem takes as its central metaphor this bunch of mushrooms growing in the light of a keyhole in this no-longer-in-use shed and basically, Mahon compares the mushrooms to the lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii who are asking to be remembered somehow.

SIMON: While the world struggles with how to help this growing group of people who take such grave risks to try to have better lives, Teicher says...

TEICHER: I think this poem can help us sort of know why action needs to be taken on their behalf because it's very easy for them to seem anonymous and far away, especially here.

SIMON: In the last stanza there's a kind of call to action.

TEICHER: (Reading) They're begging us, you see, in their wordless way to do something, to speak on their behalf, or at least not to close the door again. Lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii. Save us, save us, they seem to say. Let the God not abandon us who have come so far in darkness and in pain. We too had our lives to live. You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary, let not our naive labors have been in vain.

SIMON: That's Craig Morgan Teicher reading from a poem by Derek Mahon, "A Disused Shed In County Wexford." And you can find a link to the whole poem on our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.