Lunch in a Refugee Reception Centre [Poetry Friday]

Happy Poetry Friday! Welcome, everyone! (Wondering what Poetry Friday is? Click here.)

This month, Tanita came up with our challenge: a poem in the style of Marilyn Nelson’s “Minor Miracle,” about a small, miraculous thing you have seen or known. I’ll wait here while you read Marilyn’s stunning poem.

All finished? So, although I’ve tried on different poets’ styles here, I just couldn’t this time. When I tried a prose poem, mine just came out totally flat. But, having gotten Tanita’s reassurance that it was more about the theme of the poem than the actual writing style, I stumbled forward.

Here’s what I wrote about my experience having lunch with asylum seekers last year overseas. I couldn’t remember all the details of the food, so a few are changed. But the feelings of utter inadequacy that we couldn’t help in any real way and the graciousness of our hosts…those are 100% accurate.

Lunch in a Refugee Reception Centre

I’m looking forward to seeing what my Poetry Sisters have come up with–right along with you guys!



And Sara’s daughter Rebecca is joining us this year (but next month)! Welcome, Rebecca!

Click here to see all our previous Poetry Princesses collaborations. 

And for all the Poetry Friday goodness, visit the Poetry Friday Roundup, hosted this week by Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference.




24 Responses

  1. This poem feels so carefully built, Laura, to just the right effect. You carry us, with detail and restrained emotion, to the hard-hitting ending. In the style of, for sure.

  2. My favorite lines: “They had nothing and /offered us everything.” You’ve written such a compelling experience. It makes me want to be more compassionate today with anyone near me, who might be feeling more like a refuge than appears on the surface. Wonderful poem!

  3. Oh wow. This is incredible and so now and you should send somewhere. I love that you have this group of poets to gather and encourage one another.

  4. In a land that didn’t want them/ but wouldn’t let them go

    …isn’t that somehow the worst of it? We didn’t want you, but it’ll take the toll of all your children to let you leave… no refund. The careful gift, trying hard to be of use, still revealing insufficiency… painful and wretched and beautiful — a microcosm of the human experience.

  5. You brought up memories of me…in another country. It’s delicate to write about this, I think because the time shared is so special. They did give you everything.…and you have given us your witness. I hope you keep this poem and keep working with the ideas. I think this is beautiful and the first of more. What do you think?

    1. Thank you, Linda. Delicate is a good word. It’s such a charged and divisive topic right now but when you see pictures or experience people first-hand, it’s hard to see how anybody could want to build walls. I’ve written a few, maybe 10 or so, poems related to have the refugee experience, and I think they’re all posted here on my blog. I don’t know that it’s my story to tell. Especially as I tend to write many of poems in first person so that would be misleading. But I am trying to find a way into the topic at large for some kind of writing project. Just not sure what yet. Thanks for your encouragement!

  6. That ending is a gut punch. You did your best, but they needed (do need) way more than a well-meaning hostess gift…

  7. While this hits me in the heart, there are so many things poetically that I love. The rhyme that sneaks in (maybe it’s intentional), like borders/quarters, trees/breeze, out/shouts, etc. There’s just such a lovely rhythm that makes this all the more heartbreaking. Well done.

    1. Thanks, Tricia. I’m working on writing poems that are free verse but that still incorporate a bit of rhyme. I don’t do that naturally; I tend to go all out with rhyming, so it’s a work in progress:)

  8. Like Andi, I loved these lines, too:“They had nothing and /offered us everything.” And, like Amy, I had chills reading this poem, too.

  9. Those little details, clothesline trees, sitting criss-cross, and then the simple and profound, “We brought almond paste in a decorative jar” make this a strong and heart-wrenching poem.

  10. Thanks for sharing this moment with us, Laura. Even though you could not offer them jobs, you could give testimony afterwards. And I’m sure they did feel respected and seen, which is always a hopeful thing.

  11. I just finished reading Kelly Yang’s “Front Desk” about Chinese refugees in the U.S., and really a similar story, talk of the wish to no longer have a bed in the living room. You don’t need every detail, just that you shared how much they shared with you, “All” , and it makes me sad, wishing there was more we could do. Beautifully shown, Laura.

  12. Wow, Laura, first you shared the mentor text that left me questioning why others can be so cruel and then, reflective enough to turn a comment around. Then, I read your powerful poem and was speechless. Great job!

  13. Wow, Laura, first you shared the mentor text that left me questioning why others can be so cruel and then, reflective enough to turn a comment around. Then, I read your powerful poem and was speechless. Great job!

  14. The story, the way it is told, fragmentary, brings the feeling of impermanence, of uncertainty, which contrasts powerfully with the simple certainty of the almond paste, the superfluous decorative jar. Oof. The only slightly odd moment for me was the unnamed “she,” so specific in the midst of general they and we, couriering food (nice line all the same). Thank you, Laura.

    1. Thanks, Heidi, for the encouragement and the feedback. I need to work on better way of showing words for hospitality, and how she work so hard, probably having been cooking all morning in the tiny communal kitchen in order to offer us the best of their food and culture. And how the living space was so tiny, she had to keep making trips back and forth to bring the bounty of food she had made. Thanks for getting me something specific to work on!

  15. Writing about being there is a first step to your strong poem–I also think your poem needs, cries for, and ought to have a much larger audience–one voice–your voice can bring change, thanks for sharing your poem Laura.

  16. This is beautiful and painful, Laura. I love so many things about this, so many lines:

    in a land that didn’t want them/but wouldn’t let them go


    They had nothing and/offered us everything.

    Definitely striding, not stumbling, into the theme. 🙂

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